TO THE MAN WHO MAY OR MAY NOT BE MY FATHER
I was twenty-one when we first spoke;
not first met—
No, not because I didn’t try. I remember
being fourteen and watching my grandmother’s hands shuffle
through a stack of old Polaroids,
sun-bleached and yellow from nicotine.
As we fumbled from picture to picture, I noticed
a face, your face, and I asked her who it was.
Your father, she said. Your real one.
Can you even imagine
me standing in her kitchen, middle of the night,
being stared at by cheap porcelain roosters,
stumbling through a Coweta County phone book
for a name that I should own by right?
Can you imagine finding that name,
your face red with heat? No, not anger, not yet,
maybe love, but you don’t know what love is, but you think you do,
as a woman picks up the phone, asks your name, then hangs up.
It takes you a couple times to catch the hint but you learn.
So you do what everyone else does to get rid of a problem:
you bury it, hoping that the soil will break it down
to the insignificant nothing that you want it to be
and there you are, twenty-one, standing on a car lot
in the middle of July, the time of year that heat hits
the asphalt so hard that if you stand in one place too long,
the soles of your Goodwill penny loafers stick to the ground
like a rat, half-submerged, in a glue trap.
Your boss says You don’t take orders.
If you wanna take orders, get a job at Long Horns.
So you do what got you the job in the first place: you talk.
Yeah, the trunk has 14.8 cubic feet of space.
In English: Groceries. Lots of groceries.
Yeah, this baby has 580 horsepower.
In English: Women. Lots of women.
And maybe you sell one, maybe you don’t,
but one thing’s for sure, the night comes down
and there you are, sitting in your office,
with a Coweta County phone book, calling
people who just got done spending their day
busting their ass to make copper wire, or whatever,
and they’re sitting down to dinner with their kids
who don’t appreciate them, and their wives
who don’t cheat on them but think about it,
and it’s meatloaf night, and there they sit,
utensils clutched in their hands and brought down
like spears on the night’s kill, and here you come
to ask if they’ve thought about trading
their piece of shit Chevy for something they can’t afford.
And when one says No in the nicest way he can,
you ask again. The answer is still No,
but, this time, with a Fuck in front of it
before he says Don’t call back and hangs up.
But You don’t take orders. So you write
a note beside the number: Call back in a month.
Then you trace your finger down the page
and see a name. One you should know
better than you do and you remember
your grandmother’s hand, resting between your shoulder blades,
saying, You don’t need him. Yes,
you remember that hand:
the nails coated in chipped red lacquer,
the knotted nub where she lost her pinky
to the hydraulic press of a Toyota plant,
the blue-veins that wrapped around her wrist and knuckles,
tying it all together like the belts of some mortal engine.
And you see that name and You don’t need him
but you want him to know that.
So you pick up the phone and, as you dial,
something familiar comes over you. Heat
but, this time, anger— definitely anger
as he picks up and the only thing that stumbles
out of your mouth is a name. Your name.
Then he curses as he walks into another room,
swearing to a woman that it’s Nothing, damnit. Nothing.
I got a wife and two kids.
I’m not gonna badmouth your mama
but she got around.
You could be anybody’s. Anybody’s.
Good luck. I mean it.
Then you’re twenty-seven, leaning on the railing
of a bridge, watching two people, maybe lovers,
casting rocks across a frozen pond and, for a moment,
you’d give anything absolutely anything
to be the stone rolling off their fingertips. Their hands
holding, guiding, letting loose. Then air, the rush
of coolness, the ice cracking beneath you, falling,
sinking as the water ripples like waves of light on crystal,
deeper into that which shaped you, darker, darker.
Then earth. Stillness. Rest.
Oh, God. Can you imagine?
—from Rattle #69, Fall 2020
Tribute to Service Workers
Lewis Crawford: “Growing up dirt poor in Georgia, it seems like everyone in my family has worked for either the food service or some other form of customer care. Personally, I spent six years selling cars at a dealership called Mike Bell Chevrolet where, instead of pushing two-dollar cheeseburgers, I sold used Corvettes and made small talk with the townsfolk. Though much of my work revolves around the complicated relationship I have with my grandfather and grandmother, I try to keep most of it in a simple, working-class vernacular, because that’s what I was raised on.”