My father had a blue, peel-paint trapdoor
in the side of his head. It wasn't very big;
the length of an old war wound. My mother bandaged
herself with torn percale, wrung sheets to stiffen
on the line signalling cease fire: a time to gather the dead.
He'd catch me staring and cut
a look so hard the door sprang open.
Black-winged things would fly out,
fill the air with desperate flutterings,
crack against windowpanes and skitter
up the throat of the chimney.
Mother cleaned up afterward with a feather
duster, knelt at eye-level and drew a thumb
back and forth across his Adam's apple.
He'd nod and smile, loll his head like an infant
drunk on breast milk, and she would
break a cigarette filter in his ear to stem
the flow of viscous fluid staining
his shirts a color of nicotined teeth.
Once, when he was asleep, snake of ash coiled
between two fingers, I inched forward to open
the door just a pinch. The walls were covered
with dirty pictures: women with dark slits
where eyes should be, intumescent skin hung
like shards of Hiroshima from their bones.
Hermes Among the Mortals
I am still small enough to be in awe
that a circle the size of my thumb
draws the whole ocean after it,
to marvel how water collects in divots
of our yard after a hard rain,
reflecting a hundred-face moon
like Argos' terrible eyes.
My brother and I are all-foured
on the lawn with our father's green
right-angle flashlight, niggling
earthworms from their burrows
to harvest as bait in an old coffee can.
He is five years older, and I think
he is cool because he can burp his name,
say "fuck you" in three other languages.
I watch him gently work the worms
so as not to pull them in two.
They are a slick, inside-of-a-dog's-ear
color, and he holds each to the light,
scolds them just a little:
"Come on, now. You a fat bitch, arncha?
Stop wigglin' around so much.
You know I gotcha,
All day he stands in circles of hair fanning
from his feet like the corona of a faint sun,
talking back to the backs of heads.
His customers will tell you he is a man
of impeccable personal coolness, who listens
as day traders discuss death by a thousand
paper cuts, taxi drivers lampoon their fares,
recalling snatches of thigh stolen in rearview.
He nods and smiles: all are equal beneath
the old school blade of his folding razor
with which he learned to shave lathered balloons.
At night, he draws the blinds and sweeps
the clippings into a pile; they form a beautiful
woman, not like his scissor-tounged wife.
The woman asks for something to eat,
and like he has done a thousand times,
he breaks four eggs on the counter,
returning the empties to the carton,
makes an omelet with feta and spinach.
She listens between bites again to the story
of the mudmen he made as a child; stick-figure arms,
two thumb-hole eyes, and never a mouth.