Dad Tiles

frogandtoadI have a little bag with a pull-string.
Found it when I was cleaning out my desk drawers.
It’s dark blue and velvety, with a comforting weight to it.
Inside, the small tiles clink each other,
square with rounded edges.

I take them out one by one, read them like runes:
Dad helping me get my shoes and socks on
while I watched Josie & the Pussycats before nursery school.
The Big Book of Gnomes we would read
on the window bench in the laundry room.
How over the years, he had a habit of saying
“Your best yet!”
every time I shared a new poem, which was often enough,
or humbly suggesting some word changes
or line breaks
or sending me a short essay by Freud
or a slim volume by Roethke.

Here he is reading, pen in hand, about war or trauma,
about memory or identity – in the big green chair
when he visits us here,
or at home on the loveseat big enough for him
and two granddaughters,
or on Sun Bay, after swimming the length of the beach,
never, come to think of it, in a hurry.

Calling him from a dorm room
to talk over book purchases with the credit card he let me use
for that one purpose.
Scrabble in an Adirondack lodge, and the infamous
The handmade angel he brought from Italy,
with her pubic hair and broad wings.

Chocolate pudding in my lunch, the daycamp
I didn’t want to go to,
the summer his mother died when I was ten,
the bottom of that steep gravel driveway in the gingerbread house
we ate each other alive in,
“I have some news.”
I remember wondering what to say,
aware of my awareness of how much the moment weighed,
then asking, “When?”

And sitting in his lap,
a Buffalo living room hundreds of years ago,
reading Frog and Toad, following along, then
joining him, like a voiceover.
The green Gloria Vanderbilt cords I wore every day for a year.
The way he gets teary and eloquent
when he gives a toast at a family gathering.
His impatience when he was ready to leave on a road trip
and the rest of us weren’t.
My own restlessness, unrelenting,
learning to be friends with it.
It rides without a seatbelt, shotgun.

The seed of a poet, if you connect the dots,
grows into this very life.
The one where I met my beloved in the mountains,
the one where my own girls sleep upstairs
in their father’s t-shirts.

Frog and Toad are still friends, you know.
Like brothers.
Anything for his daughters.

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