substitute

Substitute

When my father was one of six children
& the bills were piling up,
his father walked out the door
& never came back.


The new father was Irish
& feisty,
had a strong sense of justice
& no education.


He could lift a broom
by its handle
with ten books piled on the bristles,
used the belt freely,
could not stand a lie,
was obeyed but seldom loved.


A pipe fitter by trade,
he spent the rest of his life
in the bowels of a big New York hotel,
descending daily into heat and darkness.


He died one April,
a shriveled substance of gray,
the hospital windows open,
trees & flowers in bloom &
the cries of stick ball
on the street below.


The last thing to die
was a question in his eyes,
answered by my father’s tears,
his great head descending
to the shock-white sheets.

(Originally published in Vagabond #30, April, 1979.)

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