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My Father Refuses to Read the Obituaries

ISSUE:  Winter 1988
His sisters are furious. Doesn’t he want to know
about his old buddies when they go? Aunt Grace throws
the folded paper into his lap, drops her purse
on the couch, leans on the arm of his chair. This perverse
old brother of hers winks up, smiling, slowly tears
the paper in two. How dare
he do it—she shrieks—
She’s carried that folded obit, page for weeks,
knowing he never gets The Burnt Hills Daily.
You old fool, Billy—
his first paper wad comes sailing
across the book I’m trying to read, just misses me.
Grace bends her bad back, yanks out the plug by the
 Christmas tree

and leaves us there. Aunt Ellen’s shadow is pulling
from her hair, holding them in her teeth. You have to win,
don’t you, Billy?
Her hair unwound, then winding back
up again, the pins pushed in. Her curses crackle
softly as she leaves. Here comes my youngest sister
to perch next to me, whisper,
Now what did Daddy do?
I turn on the tree and show her the page he threw
in there. I hear dry needles tick on unopened gifts
as I crawl in. Daddy snores. My sister giggles. I lift
it out. She breathes warm gusts of booze on me, pops
open a beer. We smooth the crumpled names across our
but it’s time to eat. Daddy twitches awake at the call
of women through the wall. We squeeze in on chairs,
 stools, all
13 of us. Daddy’s face is as pink as the ham
he’s about to slice. But first he grabs my mother’s hand,
commanding, Say grace, dearie, and smirks right through
 her prayer.
She crosses herself. Everyone there
is thinking about his soul
as he sharpens his carving knife, squints down at a bowl
of yams, then dozes off. My mother nudges him. His
are bright with sweat. Everyone is watching. No one
until he opens his eyes, belches, then winks at Aunt Grace
who slams down her spoon, This is my last Christmas at
 this place!

But she doesn’t mean it. Daddy knows she doesn’t. He
his head at her when he hears his grandson shriek awake,
Look what you’ve done, Grace. The baby’s carried in, his
knotted tight. Daddy applauds, holds out his arms. A lace
of slow snow is filling the window as he holds him and
on rocking him slowly, humming
low, his voice coming
from farther and farther away. Now the baby’s breathing
down the diamond-crossed lines in Daddy’s neck. Now he
 will sleep.


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