My Father Is a Fixer of Things
The clock limped with waiting, hours of my teeth
chattering from the mouse that ran between my feet
at four a.m. Up the radiator pipe it had come, the gray ghost
of everything I despised or suspected
about myself. When he finished laughing, he said,
“Stuff the hole with rags soaked in Tabasco. He’ll burn
his little mouth & go back to the cellar.” Three
thousand miles away, I knew he had pinched his lips
& was patting them in sympathy with that mouse.
Another late night & Jim calls, his car stalled
between St. Ignatius & Ronan. It is the coldest night
of the year, the stars laparoscopic against a dead
black sky. I decide to go too, & we layer up, the Donner party
with foresight. It is any old weekday night but it is a world
in this car, my father driving fast to bring his son home,
our urgent silence tattooed by something Russian
& wild (Romeo & Juliet, but Prokofiev or Tchaikovsky?) boundaried
by the green dashboard lights, the hard
geological dark, landmarks swept by, unremarked.
I spill a necklace into his hand. His fingers are thick, square-nailed,
strong, a peasant’s hands bred for midwiving cows
& fashioning such furniture as his forest huts needs. But knots
are his business, all kinds: jib lines & dry flies, one-handed
surgical seams up the chest of the Thanksgiving turkey. “Your hands
are smaller than mine,” he sighs. “Can’t you
do this yourself?” No, my face closes. I can’t. Or I won’t.
I wait for such crises like cake on Sunday. Slivers that he pincers
out bloodlessly, the smell of rubbing alcohol from his use-softened
bag as he puts together his otoscope with its cool promise
in my fevered ear, an hour scanning every word under Webster’s “T”
until I give up & ask why pterodactyl is missing from the dictionary.
Sometimes my helplessness amuses, sometimes it gives us
what I crave more than anything – more than sugar, more than love –
a chance to be father & daughter, a rare island in his other lives, all
of them, I know, hanging on that balance of patient speed,
rich livid mirth, even as he glides onto the fixing of other things.
My father explains a transistor radio/TV to my grand-niece, Sophie.