by Michael Dwayne Smith
My father leaned on bars like
Nureyev tipped on floors.
It was a certain grace: a red
slipped and poured into
fixed or laughing, pissed or dancing,
the little shit could flick a jab with his left
quicker’n you could think.
It was goddam
ballet: spin around the stools and
work the crowd,
jokes and hands and pinch an ass
and here the drinks’d come. Flatter
the fat woman, flirt with
the fag in the overdone eyes,
King For A Day, scotch and blowjobs for life,
bobbing and weaving,
flipping the pages
of his encyclopedic brain, where he’d recorded
every racist joke
he’d ever heard.
But trading one drink for three
was his specialty. “Always buy
he’d tell me, “serve with bullshit buddy-speak
and machismo drool.”
And just to keep the
timing right, he’d kick
the occasional fight. “Keeps gas in the tank,
n’ smoke in the eye,” he’d say.
The burning day I
busted his face, reeling around
from behind the rust-red pump
at a Vegas filling station,
he dropped to the pavement and smiled like
I'd arrived. He lept to his feet,
paid cash for the fuel,
and in the viscous heat,
for the first time in years, he called me
Son. The toothless
in the swirling sand, waved the ragged bills
as we sped away.
And in the red of the blood of my father's eye,
I saw the sad choreography of it all:
making necessary the next,
the hard logic
of ignorant pain,
the strained chorus of loss, the tragic
cuts and glass and falling down drunk
and stinking sex—
we drove for hours without a word.
We met again in Barstow, several months later,
in a gritty lounge from a noir film,
his face a relief in shadow and stone.
He had the cancer then, but didn’t know.
traveled with him,
drinking gin, alone, again—
a trembling rabbit, in a black corner booth.
She watched, shitfaced, seated in yet another
smoke and dim theater,
a stage where nightly he’d performed, forever.
The old man
was artful. Knew his audience well. He’d learned
to lean his bones in a
and dance, until he fell.