Four Roses

So quiet and undeveloped, the sadness in the father,
like wet porcelain clay in a closet, organic and inert.
He drives to work in the Dodge with the back seat removed
to transport cases of liquor and wine
between his two stores,
and the day will be profitable,
the shelves depleted here and there, then restocked,
the ashtrays emptied and the floor mopped.

This is my father and I’m driving my mother’s Chrysler
up Quarry Street, a patrol car pulling up behind. Siren.
The cop looks at my license and decides
on a penalty almost biblical in its severity:
he escorts me to my father’s store,
and turns me in,
I figured you’d want to handle this one yourself.

Forty years later, my father and I laugh – laws and violations,
shame and scam, no ticket to pay so maybe you give the cop
something on top of his usual take. Follow the money
and understand how the kickback system works
between distributors and stores.

But back to the sadness.
Perhaps “undeveloped” isn’t quite right.
Unlike a bartender, a man selling liquor isn’t compelled to console
his clientele. Yet each time he sees the stumpy fingers
of a longshoreman when the palm opens for change,
he feels, quite simply, a sadness.
His mother suffocated by smoke,
his fellow airmen spiraling into the bombed Balkans, his wife
shrieking in her sleep.

The tending of a short stack of hundreds.
The son so unachieved, and of no help. His assistant manager,
caught skimming from the till, had been stealing for years.
I remember – we were in the yard, I was waiting for him
to answer my question Is it true? He kept watering
the one rose bush with the sparse blossoms,
adjusting the nozzle to a finer spray.

[Published in Margie, fall 2008]