Where have you been?
Brandon tells me that you’ve been dating again,
also that he gave up on you,
also that he’s embarrassed he ever defended your absence.
You sent Brandon an email
after mom’s suicide
saying that she was at peace.
You misquoted the Byrds as Bob Dylan
to seem poetic,
but your tenured silence is greater
than an embarrassing mistake in a condolences email.
I often think about why you ever had children.
Maybe you thought the world would open up for you
if you gave it what you thought it wanted.
That the drug dealing and jail time would
prove impervious fingerprints on fatherhood.
That the alcoholism would lapse
with the love of a wife.
But you kept waking up from that dream.
You sent us back to the desert,
thought your parents would help raise us,
and stopped paying child support because
mom would habitually remarry.
this mitigated the impact of the financial isolation
she bared the brunt of
after leaving her family of origin
across the Pacific.
it was an excuse
to let her new husbands subsidize
your bar habit.
You complained to us when she married
but you forgot about the time
Brandon found a baggie full to the brim
of your pills
on the toilet
when he was a toddler.
Mom flushed them all
and again became the reckless one
by responding to her child in peril.
When I found photos of myself in
a bonnet and a child carrier
on the bar
and you were in a beard on a stool
I could hardly contain my disappointment,
yet somehow she remained a constant target for you.
Her bad decisions.
Your smoke and mirrors.
You never redeemed the promise to let
her return home.
Instead, you planted a lie when she started making plans
to finish the circle
and go back;
I thought I had seen her collapse
sobbing for the last time.
Then you made up a miraculous story
about a fantastical kidnapping attempt
that never happened.
She was too stupid, you said,
to realize that you had tricked her
to come back to the States.
I’ve wanted to tell you that I’ve known about that lie
for 20 years
but can’t bring myself to bother confronting you
because it wouldn’t change a thing.
She’s still dead
and you are my father on paper only.
I hate that I’m 33
and writing angst-ridden poems
about the desire to have emotionally and physically present parents.
I hate that when I was 15
and called you for an interview
for a school project,
you told me I couldn’t handle the truth
about your history in Vietnam
but later gave it freely
to my cousin.
She has a bridge to you
that you burned to me.
My report read:
“Yes, I have a dad,”
and I somehow stretched that on for
two whole pages.
I remember when I finally made plans to move to Seattle
only to find out through a family telephone game
that you had just moved back to Phoenix.
I wondered when you were going to bother to tell me.
You were so secretive even then,
I didnt know for months that you were only two hours away.
I worry that this tendency is a seed residing inside me,
germinating sullen, solitary, stubborn roots.
I’ve been wanting to reach out to you
for the last 8 months
since mom died
but I already considered you long gone;
I honestly don’t know if I could mourn you again.
I do have a longing.
A longing to at least tell you that
she wasn’t stupid or crazy,
that she was a strong incest survivor,
clever enough to execute
a secret escape from someone
who showed her where he would hide her dead body,
and fed two kids after another divorce that left her financially ruined,
and still loved my brother and I enough to feed two suns.
She broke down often only to explode in light.
I can see where her spirit informs my mannerisms
making me a little softer, a little tougher,
and I want you to leave her name
out of your mouth.