Father’s Day 1989
His radiation was almost over
so I drove Dad to Elijah’s,
a grill on the Cape Fear
known for crabcakes and oyster stew.

He insisted on treating me.
“Hell, you’re a father, poor
as I was at your age —
which is too damn long ago.”

Out my car window, the skeletal
frames of condominiums rising;
out his, the river, cypress swamp,
alligator holes. “Mondo condo,”

I nodded. “Niggerhead Road,
it used to be called,” he said.
“When black folks spoke up
about housing laws in 1898,

the so-called town fathers
mounted five or six heads
on pine stakes out here.”
He lit another cigarette

from the butt of the last.
“To show the rest the one
and only way out of town
if they didn’t shut the hell up.”

I had crabcakes; Dad stuck
to coffee and smoke. What else
did he want for Father’s Day?
He smiled at oyster shells

heaped on the wharf: “1937,”
plucking the bill from my hands.
“Your mother and I miss 1937.
Now drive,” he ordered, “past Bellevue”

— a cemetery closed since 1918,
when influenza filled the one
meadow not taken by mass graves
for yellow fever or typhus.

I’d foraged Bellevue for wild
asparagus and puffballs big
as baby skulls fifteen years ago:
we weren’t talking much then.

“Expect town houses here, too,
next time you come,” he said.
“The bastards who bought it
had grandfathers who were

white headhunters in 1898.”
I stopped at the gate. Dad
never touched the wild food
I took off these graves,

claiming I’d walked out
on too many war stories.
Now I was looking to him
to talk, talk and not stop.

“Is that a white balloon,”
he squinted, “floating over
that gravestone down there?
Pull on in, son, nobody’s

going to bother with a half-
dead old fool taking his
grown boy to see a damn
balloon on a grave on Sunday.”