I whisper “I hate my father” under the sheets
where he can’t hear. When I come down
only a coffee cup, a plate of ashes and toast are left of him.
There is a silence downstairs
like that after a deep hurt.
I eat the soft parts from around his toast.
I hide under the porch,
wait for the milkman to walk over me,
crawl inside the hedge, fill it with puppets I cut strings off,
they rise branch by branch through a green dark
till the postman comes.
I stay still, can touch his pants leg as he brushes past me.
The boy next door is in the middle of his yard
crying for me to go home.
I march around his house with a flag of my father’s handkerchief
tied to a tomato pole and shout, “No, No!”
He cannot get away.
I can let myself in and out of anyone’s yard.
All morning I take mushrooms apart, small machines I find
whose springs uncoil,
I spread apart the veils, slit open stalk, volva, bulb,
look for the topsecrets of mushrooms,
intricate controls I will discover one day.
I go from one sunny place to another,
I have things hidden for each part of the afternoon.
By the time I reach them, they are warm;
blocks buried in the sand,
dolls I unbutton — their clothes feel freshly ironed,
I close my fingers around them.
The forsythia is tropical, I shave long whips and lash my legs,
collapse under a neighbor’s bushes,
crawl across another’s hot tar.
I bury glass in the soft dirt of an old woman’s garden,
messages only I can read when she digs them up.
I run away from home yard by yard.
By the time another mother is calling mine
I am back with yellow petals stuck to my wet shoes,
yellow smeared into my palms.
I lie on army blankets and listen to the house fill
and a father who seizes it back,
sets up headquarters there.
I let him have the downstairs,
he will tire of it.
They had been afloat for so long
the boy knew they would never land again.
As soon as he stepped aboard
and the school had drifted out of sight of land
land had ceased to be.
As soon as his mother’s hand had pulled out of his
he had felt the school sway.
At recess he knew if he were to jump off the schoolsteps
he would sink. Other boys dove off
and rose a hundred feet off spashing.
He waited to be taught to play
as he had been to swim.
He tread water till the bell.
At his desk he worked at numbing his fingers
but they curled back over his legs.
He felt the warmth of his skin under his pants’ pocket;
he had not touched anyone for so long
he had forgotten how anything solid could also be soft.
Even when they landed
he knew it was for the night only;
where he slept in the day wasn’t.
He and the other boys were lined up
and marched from one part of the school to the other.
There was no more land,
they would never land.
My father put his hands on my shoulder, pushed me forward.
I tried to count how far I was from the steps,
from the wide, dark metal down
to the wheels. Greenbush, Egypt, Scituate, Bridgewater,
Dorchester — we stepped through steam.
I felt myself falling through the terminal
to be whirled down one subway,
down to the one below — boy and father, heads bent,
dragging our shadows after us like huge, broken shadows.
All day in school I tasted the dust of favorite tunnels
wanted to sneak back into a waitingroom
of old smells: the body odors in the morning papers
someone had slept on, peppermints,
the dark chocolate smells in the candywrapper cardboard,
cracked leather of counterstools, warm nickels,
grays that tasted of cheap metal,
of grit, grease, sand under shoes, burnt gears,
I stood at the top of the stairs down to the bowling alley,
to the bar,
and listened to the men gossip like tired miners,
I was afraid to be trapped below
in the men’s room deep under the station,
white cavern of whiter caves.
The old men stroked their penises like birds with
they were trying to coax to fly
It was not they I feared
But the clean dark places behind the pay showers,
behind the changing rooms.
Being trapped there would be like trying to breathe
inside a white stone.
I watched the velvet dark inside the chapel
no one ever came out of,
the blue shadows between the coin store’s bars,
the different times on the wall,
ticket booths dimming one by one down the hall.
Till I had no more time
and had to run for my train. I waited till it began to roll out
and matter-of-factly reckless
and casually important
as a conductor waved and swung myself up and on.
I could smell the tracks,
the dark grease of the wheels, lift myself down into the
touch the trestles.
In the evening fatherless I rode home on the steps