Thursday Poetry Challenge at Imaginary Garden with Real Toads. This poem is first draft, just going for it, inspired by the picture of an oil painting by Paul Whitener, “Unfinished Landscape” 1950
I treasured his hands–those cracked, dry, cut
and dug-up hands with the bitten nails
and callouses and blackened gashes. I watched
him hook my line as if I were his little girl. I watched
him wipe the grease from the engine on mom’s
kitchen towels, cigarette stuck to his bottom lip,
squinting his left eye at the smoke,
“Yeah I think this’ll get ‘er runnin'” as he fixes
yet another one of my cars.
Every time I went to my mothers since I was twenty,
I spent my time in the garage with Dave.
“Husband number three.”
There was hope in this one,
which I waved back and forth
almost carelessly, because anything happens.
When my father died, I was twenty-one.
Panic attack on the bathroom tiles and then
Dave holding my shaking body
and hushing me like I was a kid,
just “shhhhhhh…poor baby, it’ll be ok…”
his hand rubbing hard circles on my back.
He broke a lot of things.
He fucked up a lot of things.
He sunk a boat.
He chain smoked like a mother fucker,
biceps like Popeye on his short frame, back when
he worked at the lumber yard, before he got injured.
That was our thing together back then, smoking
and coffee in the treasure trove garage
(he collected junk from the dump and yard sales–
“this is worth five fuckin’ dollars!”)
and he’d hold up circular metal spinny spindly things
with screws in it and various attachments he’d taken
off and I’d ask him what it was, how it worked,
and we smoked and sipped and talked. I could
listen to him for hours talk about tools and gadgets,
machinery and equipment; felt like I was with a dad.
“Yer ma, I tell ya, I dunno man, I love her but…
she makes me crazy!”
“Hand me that so I can splice this–”
The painting by Paul Whitener.
Makes my eyes sting,
makes my throat hurt a little.
I didn’t see landscape before or while
I saved the picture to write about it.
I saw blood and gray matter, a bleached out brain
washing out like Whitener’s oils with turpentine.
Dave skulking around those houses
we tell the girls to never walk by.
Dave driving on the wrong side of the road,
oblivious and half-eyed.
Dave’s mind a soupy, rotting,
eaten mess similar to my father’s. But my father’s
made him only softer, farther away;
Dave’s made him mean to my mother.
But not to me.
I watched him disappear in those rounded
clouds of Whitener’s–purple, orange, red
a fire bloating what space was left, with the sinews
of greenish yellow dispatched and unattaching
from the helm.
Four days ago:
“It’s rehab with all of us behind you, right now, or you go.”
…tell me tell me he didn’t say he’s leaving
“Fine. There’s the door,” I had said simply.
I wanted to grab his leg and beg him to try.
I became my seven-year-old self in heels,
there in the garage, stone-face, sweaty hands.
The doctors and officers in agreement
that it was probably too late for rehab.
Words like severity. Deep-in. High levels. His age and conditions.
Dropping dead before he hits rock bottom, if this drug has a bottom.
Three days ago:
Cops can’t find him. Restraining Order out.
“Dave can you help me build Emma’s bookshelf?”
The meth houses aren’t giving him up.
“Dave, wanna go fishing?”
Two days ago:
I have to keep my doors locked.
Yesterday I went into my mother’s garage
to get the mower. Knee deep in bikes and boxes
and a broken down car Dave had crashed months earlier;
dust and abandoned tools, half-finished
pallet projects–and there I was, trying
to screw the handle back in it,
taking in sharp, loud breaths as the tears came.
I can’t write how I’ve seen him die off. The rot there.
The painting can. That painting of Dave
thinning down his soul with
methamphetamine like Whitener thinning the oils
with turpentine, –“the effects will visibly peep through
during the final application...”
The red clouds lined thinly in pink–they’re moving
away into the distance, almost behind
the painting; you can see them move
like you’re coming up with speed on a drop-off
and the sky rushes to your face
rushes to his veins
rushes to the wind up the base of the canvas
rushes into the yellow and green warning that curls
before the eruption of sky red, blood red, pink body insides explode
rushes over the dead-end and off the drop-off
rushes away and spreads thin and disappears.