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Dreaming About My Father

ISSUE:  Spring 2000

We’re painting the old house in the Hudson Valley
and we’re a team, applying the paint so smoothly
that not a drop gets spilled, it’s all cream, and
for the first time he has no complaints about
the way I work. “Good job” he says and smiles
when we climb down the ladders and take a break
for a beer. He tells me again about how he loves
this place, how he loves the country, how poor
his family was, growing up in Brooklyn—how ashamed
he was that my grandmother had to take in washing
and scrubbed steps to meet the rent on their
smelly apartment on Chauncy Street—and for once
I listen to him without yawning. “Why don’t we
pick some stones out of the garden?” he says,
and we do that, we take the old wheelbarrow
which doubles as a cement trough and pick
a couple of loads of stone from the rocky patch
where he grows golden bantam corn—his favorite—
and the beans, and carrots that never form straight
roots, and the tomatoes in such abundance that
I still have photos of them, my grandmother smiling
over the bushels of red fruit in front of her.
The first hummingbird I ever saw as a child keeps
buzzing between the salvia and the rose of Sharon.
“I’m sorry,” he says, as we roll a load of stones
toward the wall he’s building near the big maple,
“that I didn’t talk to you more—what can I say?
I was tired and angry—and that I called you
good-for-nothing.” “It’s ok,” I say, “that’s
so long ago. I want you to know that after
you died I came back, after the airport expanded
and they took all the places on this road,
I came back twice. By the first time they’d
flattened everything, but I took a few stones
that were left from the fireplace you built
and I have them still.” “That fireplace” he says,
“I taught myself how to build from stone.”
I say: “Last year was the second time, it was
so grown over it was hard to find the place,
but I finally did because the red maples
you planted were still there among the wild trees.”
“It’s a shame, he says, “how they took the place
and never even used it, after all that work.”
“Yes, but the catalpa trees you planted? they’ve
spread everywhere, it must be a half mile
in every direction, down to the brook and
up the hill near where the Dolans lived.”
“I know,” he says, “but it doesn’t matter
now that we’re here, and we’re talking,
now that we don’t even have to talk.”


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