Copyright © 2020 by Michael Cervas
Whenever I need to read
the fine print
on the back of a capsule
of pills, or
whenever I want to check
the box scores
in the newspaper,
I take off
my glasses and put
my nose right
in front of the words,
and then I know
just how my father
felt when he was working
late in the garage
at his tool bench
for my first born,
squinting hard to place
the pegs and pieces
in just the right spots
so the car’s wheels
would spin or the dog’s
legs would wobble,
making my son laugh.
That’s Christmas to Me
It’s only ten days before Christmas
and I’m sitting early at my desk listening
to the Pentatonix Christmas album
for the first time when all of a sudden
I laugh out loud as the five singers
do a mash-up of “Winter Wonderland”
and “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”
This on a dark morning when the paper’s
headlines speak of new gun violence,
this time at a Chocolate Cafe in Sydney
and I’m thinking December just can’t
get any darker, but of course it can.
Tomorrow will bring the horrible news
of the school shooting in Pakistan. So
I know that we must look for wonder
wherever we can find it.
The last time
I saw my father was at Christmas
almost thirty years ago. I remember him,
propped up on his elbows on the living
room carpet, his heavy glasses hovering
at the tip of his nose, painstakingly building
an Ewok village with our seven-year-old
while I played Christmas songs on the organ,
joining the pieces as our son watched,
propped up on his elbows just like Grandpa,
the two of them creating a world purely
out of dreams of furry Wookies and cosmic
peace. That world, that room, was a place
where magic lived. Only six weeks later
my father was gone.
But if Christmas
means anything to me now, it’s shining
in that memory that whispers to me
across the years. Sometimes we can take
the worries of our world and transform
them into wonderlands just like the Forest
Moon of Endor—a Sanctuary Moon—
where for a day or a moment or even
a season, we can forget about the Death
Star and dance together in the trees.
Watching My Son Bathe His Son
Bedtime for my first grandson
and I’m watching his father, my son,
bathe him at the kitchen counter,
testing the water to get the temperature
just right, placing the baby shampoo
and the miniature washcloth right
beside the newborn’s bath tub, gently
lowering his son into the water,
all the while whispering soft words
to his baby boy, and suddenly
I am back in that tiny apartment
on Hope Street with him, my son,
lowering him so tentatively
into the water, afraid of letting
him slip and fall, afraid of hurting
what I didn’t even know how
to love yet, wondering if I knew
how to bathe an infant, wondering
if I could ever be the kind of father
who might teach his son just
what it means to care for a child.
Foolish Assumptions Again
The two of us are sitting in a booth
at Ken’s Corner Breakfast and Lunch
after a morning of picking blueberries
at our favorite pick-your-own farm
when I glance over to see a young
man, no more than a burly boy really,
standing in the aisle with his back
facing me, his left arm riddled
with dark swirls of tattoos, wearing
a backwards baseball cap, just
another irreverent punk taking up
space in an otherwise wholesome
café in Glastonbury, that’s what I’m
thinking to myself,
but then he shifts
his feet lightly and swings to his left
and I see that he has a one-month-old
baby cradled in that arm. The child’s
mother is sitting across from me
staring up at the boy with enough love
to save the whole damn world, but
for now the boy himself has eyes only
for his tiny child who is fixed on
his father’s face, not the dark tattoos,
not the crooked baseball cap, just
his father’s eyes. And then I hear
the waitress whisper to the pretty girl,
“Bet you never thought you’d see that!”
Pickup Game on Elmgrove Street
August in Providence, way too hot to read Foucault.
So my friend Mark and I decide to shoot some hoops,
hop in his beat-up car, and head out Hope Street,
looking for a little friendly competition,
but no one’s playing at Hope High today, and besides
the courts are in terrible shape, bent rims and potholes everywhere,
so we drive on down towards Wayland Square.
Not too far from the university’s gymnasium
there’s a little public park with a smooth asphalt court.
The hoops there are strung with metal nets
that glisten today in the summer’s incessant sun.
Two black kids are shooting around,
jive-talking and laughing, when we walk in,
ask if they want to play a little game of two-on-two.
(Their rusted bicycles lie in a twisted heap next to the gate.)
They size us up: two skinny white guys wearing glasses,
too obviously intellectual to know any real moves,
to be able to handle the ball like candy or to shoot like silk.
Sure, show us what you got!
We strip off our already drenched shirts and begin.
The boys are quicker but the two of us have played more ball:
we know how to execute the pick and roll,
how to hit the cutter with a deftly placed bounce pass.
When that fails, I drain a few jumpers, or Mark drives to the hole.
“Who do you guys think you are, Havlicek and West?”
one of the boys asks, and we all laugh.
Mark and I win the first game, but they take the second.
Then we all decide, without saying a word,
to take a break and sit in the shade of the scrawny trees
by the barely working water fountain,
two grad students from Brown and two Hope High boys,
winded and happy, against a chain-link fence.
Soon, we’re playing the third game for all the glory.
The ball feels so good now, so real and purposeful to me,
that for a while all thoughts of libraries and papers
dissolve in the shimmering air.
All I know is I’m on the court hanging out with the guys,
making the summer go by,
lifting the ball again and again in perfect arcs
toward the solar rims.
I’ll never see these kids again,
or remember their names even if they told us them.
Tomorrow I’ll crank up the old dilapidated air conditioner,
and get back to Gravity’s Rainbow.
But today’s game is not about winning or losing—
it’s just about playing, the flow of bodies on a hot asphalt court,
the bumping and pushing, the hard cuts and jump stops,
the shooting and talking in the summer’s heat.
“Nice shot,” I finally say, to all of us
as the game ends and we all high-five each other.
“Catch you later,” I hear one boy say quietly
though we all know we’ll never see each other again.
Mark winks a smile at me and we slip off,
jump into his car to head home.
Seeing My Father Again
Yesterday I caught a glimpse of my father
dead for over a decade. He was walking down
the main street of the town I live in now.
I think he looked up just as I drove by,
with perhaps the merest hint of recognition,
then wavered away into the busy crowd.
This is not the first time I’ve seen him
since he died: sometimes he appears to me
as an older version of the man I knew,
grayer, thinner too, sometimes he’s younger
and walks briskly away from me, sometimes I see
only a dim resemblance, as if he were only
a distant cousin newly arrived from Greece.
Always I want to stop him, ask him what it’s like
to be dead, talk to him about my life now,
show him pictures of the grandchildren
he remembers only as tiny babies, and the one
he doesn’t even know exists, tell him
I miss him, quiz him about the queer ways
of movement in that other world that allow him
to grow older and younger at the same time.
But always he disappears, turns a corner,
drives steadily away in the opposite direction,
and I fear that I will never see him again.
Nothing is really any different this morning:
the book of poems and the glass of water
still sit on my bedside table just where I left them
before switching off the light after you’d fallen asleep;
your scarves, splashes of indigo, taupe and crimson,
still hang fluted from wooden pegs on the wall;
and I still can hear the dull thrumming of the fan
hidden in the attic window above our bedroom.
Outside, the shadows of the pines dart in the air,
the chimes, like shiny bangles, clang in the breezeway,
the birds sing for their breakfasts by the feeder.
Our three children lie sleeping in their own rooms
(naturally, it is only the middle of the night for them).
Nothing at all has really changed this morning.
Still, last night in the very instant before sleep,
I felt your touch in the hollow of my back,
stirring me awake, spinning me into your arms,
just the way it used to happen, often, always—
I felt your body opening to me, sparking the darkness,
making it all just disappear, disappear forever.
Only moments ago the sun uncloaked the earth,
not with the light of some divine transformation,
blasting the forests and rifting the mountains,
but with ordinary light, the light we rarely stop to see,
light that begins in dawn and effortlessly guides us
through our days, spending its magic little by little
even in the blackest hours of midnight bedrooms,
so that somehow for us each day is new.