ODE TO THE FAN
The only thing smuggled from my parents’ house.
Square, heavy, a motor my age, 19, my dad
telling me I was no longer welcome there,
how he hated my life, maybe because
I’d never slept with him. But this
is about the fan, the green fan
that I hid under blankets in the back
of my lover’s gigantic truck, in the time before
SUVs when trucks were functional and ugly.
And the hidden fan, my unhappy cat
that had also been kicked out.
That night I slept on the floor of a stranger,
Jen and I on piles of blankets.
It was July and we turned on the fan
and slept in its hum. I think I slept deeply—
why wouldn’t I, with life clearing
like the view from mountains? Like wind
I’d created myself? Later I painted
the fan raspberry, a ridiculous color,
and when I plugged it in my new lover
or old lover or whatever would joke
“Where’d you get that fan?”
because they all knew the fan’s story,
the famous Skolfield fan, the way my father
held onto old things like hand tools
he didn’t have the strength to use
and rotted chair webbing and sawdust,
because maybe there would be an oil spill,
a whole tank of oil, and sawdust’s just the thing.
I didn’t speak to my family for a long time,
until the cancer thing, and then every time
I saw my father or got him on the phone
he’d say “Have you seen the fan?
The big green fan?” he’d ask as soon
as he heard my voice, as if he’d forgotten
he’d asked before, and this went on
for 15 years, and I’d patiently answer
“No, Dad, I know the fan you’re talking about,
I don’t have it.” Because although he
was patient, I’d learned from him,
I would outlast him, I didn’t mind the questions,
sometimes I’d be the one to bring it up:
“Dad, don’t you have a fan for this room?
I remember a fan here, green—did it stop working?”
And he’d say “I thought you had it.”
And I’d say “Oh, I wish, what a fan. A fan
to end all fans. You should write a poem about it.”
Because he used to write, in college,
and told me he’d stopped to have a family.
We would start every visit lying to each other.
I like to think it pains him, the idea
of his fan with me, how I might neglect it,
the gathering rust, the mice delighting in the cord.
Or worse: that I threw it away.
Or even worse: How it brings me pleasure,
the metal blades stronger than today’s plastic,
the solid whir of it, sleep-inducing vibrato.
I like to think I’m contributing to his nightmares:
I cherish the fan. It still works. It’s that good.
from Rattle #36, Winter 2011
Karen Skolfield: “The fan and I spent our early years in Delaware. I joined the military, we went to a couple of colleges, moved up the coast, though the fan’s work remained remarkably consistent. Now we’re in Massachusetts with my husband and two children. Out-of-town friends invariably ask to see the fan, and we oblige. Summers are cooler here. The handle’s gone missing. My hair’s going gray. But nothing is said out loud.”