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I Will Reparent Myself

I’ll write about the papa I always wanted:

He sits on a balcony, serious & dignified,

wearing sandals with interlocking straps

of light & dark leather. He leans on the balustrade, watches the street,

& the man who walks with a limp,

& the buses that push & pull

at their brakes & turn street corners,

watches the lines of laundry, strung

between gray walls, stained by azaleas,

watches me ride the neighbor’s bicycle.

As he worries about darting cars & bumps in the sidewalk, the late

evening sun settles upon his face,

dust particles

float in the sweltering air.

I’ll long for him, my noisy, careless father,

his heavy step, his deep voice filling up

the rooms, his laugh a steady vibration

against the drums inside my ears. His face

was less angled when he laughed —soft as sunrise—& his jaw

less strong, less square.

I’ll write about a papa who helped me

with complicated homework,

when the numbers in the math book

wouldn’t hold still—numbers like swarming

gnats that buzz about my head. As I completed the assignments, the world

had an ethereal stillness, a colorful tranquility.

With a knife, my papa broke a melon,

revealing its pink center, its myriad of seeds.

He reached for a pink slice, brought it

to his mouth, & sank his teeth into it.

Pink juice ran out, gathered & quivered

on his chin. Or he peeled an orange, lost

himself in the color & segments & sparkle

of the pulp. He offered me a piece of fruit

—feeding is a kind of love.

If you do it right,

it won’t be clear who’s filling whom.

When my face drains of color,

& there’s something starved about it

—like some small, feral animal, something

hunted—I’ll write about father-daughter

car rides around Port-au-Prince, windows

down, dashboard peeling in sunlight,

seatbelts frayed like catfish whiskers.

Sometimes we remain quiet, listening to

the thread of the tires run along

the asphalt, how they collect pebbles

& drop them back. He’ll clasp

my hand, Papa; squeeze it, feeling

the warmth inside, the pulsing heat of blood.

In these stories, he’ll sometimes take me

to the mountains, turn up the music in the car,

until it is a giant bass roar & I can’t hear

anything else, not even my own mind. The sky

is blue, the mountains are green, & sheep

graze in the fields. The cherries are dark

& shine on the treetops. We climb higher& higher,

the road twisting & turning

& cars flying by in a manner both dangerous

& natural. On our way back,

the engine growls as the sun recedes, shady patches

deepen with shadows. I am happy

for this moment—my father breathing the same air

I breathe, our hearts beating to the same rhythm.

When I am lost in time, unhinged,

when parts of me trail off, disconnected,

I’ll become him,

for myself,

this tender father

—without the kind of loneliness

that settles in my chest, a small, hard knot

—without the kind of sorrow

that tries to take me out of myself.

I’ll become him in those epic days of quarter

life, finding himself, verging on success,

on failure, his own father inside him.

& I’ll become him, this father

whose mouth is not dirty with rage,

but rather honeyed with affection.

Both father & daughter, I’ll tuck myself

in the warmth of my own bed,

where I’ll read the Brothers Grimm,

& verses from King James Bible.

I’ll whisper, I love you—to myself, on his behalf.

I’ll whisper, I love you—to my noisy, careless father,

his heavy step, his deep voice filling up

the rooms, his laugh a steady vibration

against the drums inside my ears. His face

is less angled when he laughs—soft as sunrise

—& his jaw less strong, less square.


(Cover art for this poem by @kgalee_art)

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