Our father is fourteen in this story
so we must imagine him young and slim
bobbing on his toes, the quiver
of his racquet like the quiver
of a cat’s tail.
We’ve seen our father play before,
sitting courtside with our action figures
and paper dolls,
deadened to the minor explosions
of balls striking asphalt.
But we are surprised now by the
in his face, his eyes moving the tight loop
from court to net to opponent
and back again.
And it occurs to us
that we haven’t occurred to him.
Our father is pre-marital,
his world blazes between these
But soon we look where our father won’t:
To the stands where
our boy-faced uncles jeer
beside our grandmother, thin and erect
where we know her
soft and stooped.
She raises a hand to the metallic crest of
her hair and calls out,
David! What’s the score!
And it is understandable to us
that he pretends not hear.
That his shoulders twitch once – as if her voice
had landed there,
a leaf or a small stone –
and then roll forward again
In another story, our father is fifty-two,
stocky and dad-like
in his yellow-nosed socks,
which sometimes trace hardwood loops
in the floor,
but today lay flat and broad beneath
his phone holding hand.
It was there yesterday, Mother, he says
with the patience
from when we were children, but now
it is a parent he parents;
our grandmother’s daily call
for lost things:
houses and husbands.
I’ve been robbed! she yells,
her voice crinkly with phone distortion,
jagged with anger.
In the other story, our father wins the game.
We imagine him on the court,
exhaustion sharpening the triumph
in his face:
He is going to Nationals.
We have known moments like these –
our lives still narrow enough to be eclipsed
in a single swell of joy,
but we’ve never seen in our father
such a dazzle of possibility:
The chance to play those who will become
and household names.
The chance to become himself
But he is not those things
as he talks to his mother in the other story
which is not really a story
but the present.
I’ll help you find it tomorrow, he says,
and we imagine our grandmother
wandering her apartment
like a forest
she’s just woken within.
We can’t imagine she remembers
the first story or, especially
Turning to her son on the car ride back,
from the game he won,
grim with decision
and with a hardness that seems
to us, impossible,
for such a small defiance –
for just a twitch of his shoulders.
But still, it seems to us a sort of forgiveness
or a sort of grace
for our father to stand and swallow
his mother’s delusions,
his mother’s anger,
while somewhere back in time
he sits, fourteen years old, holding
like a dead bird in his hands.
He didn’t go to Nationals.
Instead he went to college, law school,
met our mother,
had a child, then children,
who ask other family members for the stories
our father won’t tell.
And it is a new, terrifying thing for us
to love our father in this way.
A more complete way:
We yearn now to pull his mother’s voice
from his ears, to take her into ours,
and to hold her there
for as long as he needs.