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Buying Wine

ISSUE:  Winter 2004

When we were boys, we had a choice: stay in the car or else
follow him into Wine Mart, that cavernous retail barn,

down aisle after aisle, California reds to Australian blends
to French dessert wines, past bins loaded like bat racks

with bottles, each with its own heraldic tag, its licked coat
of arms, trailing after our father pushing the ever filling cart,

leaning forward in concentration, one hand in mouth stroking
his unkempt mustache, the other lofting up bottles like fruit

then setting them back down, weighing the store of data
in his great brain against the price tag, the year tattooed

on the bottle, the cut of meat he knew he would select
at the butcher’s: a lamb chop, say, if this Umbrian red

had enough body to marry the meal’s bounty, to dance
on its legs in the bell of the night; or some scallops maybe,

those languid hearts of the sea, a poet’s dozen in a baggy,
and a Pinot Grigio light enough not to disturb their salty murmur.

Often, we’d stay in the car until we’d used up the radio’s juke-
box and our dwindling capacity to believe our father

might actually “Just be back,” and so break free, releasing
from our seatbelts, drifting to the edges of the parking lot

like horses in a field following the sun to its endgame
of shade. I’d periodically peer into the front window, breath

fogging the sale signs, catching snippets of my father’s profile
appearing and disappearing behind the tall cardboard stacks,

sometimes moved to knock on the glass and hiss “Come on,
Dad!” and stomp back to the car. And once I slipped back

into the store, wandering the aisles, master of my own cart,
loading it to bursting for the dream party I was going to throw.

But mostly, like now, as I drift to the Italian reds, hoping
for the perfect bottle under $12, I’d shuffle along, dancing bear

behind his circus master, and wait for my father to pronounce,
tall in his basketball body, wine bottles like babies in his hands, “Aha!”


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