A Child’s Panes
Updated: Feb 15
You were a kid.
and you missed him
but then, what would you think?
Your daddy went away to war,
a kind of missing that had no words.
You must have missed him
when Uncle J.T. drove 200 miles
when you were born, too,
in his beat-up pickup to see you.
Your daddy home on leave
Raggedy Ann, lay down with you
called you baby, bought you
You and Mama following base to base:
Ordered to India
Tennessee, Kansas, California.
Daddy saluted you from his plane.
You called Mama's cross stitches"panes"
because that's how planes
"planes" looked against the sky.
On the farm Mamaw and Pampaw
You loved lying on top of Whitey,,
and splashing in a little plastic pool
Mama and Mamaw rocking
gathered you in like the corn.
that big mutt, tail wagging,
in the dry-as-cornstalks backyard.
and creaking on the porch,
with paper made of the news.
The war finished; a house in Illinois.
A baby sister you adored
Daddy said anywhere but the South.
but Daddy didn't want.
The story isn't so sweet after that.
Who are you? Who am I?
touching isn't necessarily love,
Little girl who didn't know why
I swear to you, it wasn't your fault.
At a family reunion when you were ten, his arm around you on the sofa,
Uncle J.T. called you sweetheart, held you close for just a moment.
It was enough.
Daddy’s footsteps on the stairs shake the house he flips on the bathroom light flushes the toilet hard clicking off the light stops at my door I’m on my stomach turn to see when he reaches the bed plants a wet kiss on my lips.
I want to watch Boston Blackie
I know, Sugar
Daddy strokes my face and hair with an open palm glides over my nightgown my back and thighs along my bare calves inside the gown straying across my back my skin wakes up his hand soft as the chamois he uses on his car brushes my skin warm like the puppy next door I close my eyes as his hand wanders inside my gown you can trust your car to the man who wears the star.
I can tell you what the visitations were like,
but only in the aftermath.
In the moments that my father touched me
my mind circled the moon or hid in the tall grass.
There was a pit that happiness fell into,
dark, unknowable, a blank where sensation
and sorrow should have been,
the cells of my body did not know caress,
did not know what they lacked.
I constructed a barricade between me
and everything I loved—caterpillars,
snow angels, lilies-of-the-valley—
held only my sister close,
held only my breath above the pit,
waiting for happiness to return,
slept on my back so that no one could steal
into my room and snatch me.
Each time he left with another woman,
Mother took to her bed, threw up.
I trembled serving her tea. I didn't know
how to feed Cathy or me.
I hated his wet kisses,
his fingers on my skin.
I hated that he scratched his dandruff,
jangled his keys.
I hated that he had a little viewer of a woman
whose breast was rolled in a wringer washer.
I found the viewer in the basement, asked him,
confused, What is this? Why
would a woman do this?
I was eight. I stared at our wringer. He grinned.