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Zuihitsu with Lessons from Dad

Come to the dinner table without the day’s baggage. Eat with a smile on your face.

Poetry | Poetry Tuesday, Zuihitsu, poetry
November 21, 2023

Empty cans make so much noise. When you drop a full can into the street, it is silent.

At the beach, I am one of many children with a kite, but the way mine hits the air defies magic. Only my father knows the trick. Our silver-purple fish takes the sky and flies like it was meant to. Then he passes the line to me.

A man’s ears will ring long after he has left the mines. My father motions for me to roll up the car window.

Come to the dinner table without the day’s baggage. Eat with a smile on your face.

On Palm Sunday, no other man in church knows how to fashion a grasshopper from those slim leaves. Every child leaves Mass holding palm-crosses of varying intricacy or palm sharpened into a straight sword. My sword takes the shape of lightning with infinite angles and bends.

Duwende can live in the drain. Say, Bari, bari, bari before pouring hot water. If their skin scalds, so will yours, and no remedy will heal the wound. You will have to apologize. Set out oil, and ask for their blessing.

My father crouches in the closet and pulls out a heavy case of rocks. Igneous. Sedimentary. Pumice is light as air, cratered like the moon. I squat in the cul-de-sac to sift through silt trapped in slits of asphalt. Unearth five shards of colored stone, cloudy glass.

Each grain of rice is money. Do not let a single one fall. Do not bring the rice pot to the rice sack in the pantry. Leave the pot in the sink. Scoop rice with the plastic cup, and steady your hand. Make the walk from pantry to sink without spilling.

On the side of our fridge, a photograph of my father and his coworkers in a line. All in button-up shirts and ties. My father’s slacks with the neatest crease ironed down the center of both legs. A foot between the crown of his head and the blonde man beside him. My father’s pose like Superman.

My father sells my seat at the Braves game because I am young enough to fit in his lap. I watch the white-uniformed men jog from base to base, slide into the red clay, and spit into the perfect grass, a little taller than usual, and still, and quiet.

The best brand of jeans is Levi’s, with its stiff American denim. Even if you have to trim the pant legs by a few inches and learn to sew. The extra steps are worth it.

My father before he was my father, with a car fast enough to wake the barrio. His laughter whistling from too many beers. He falls asleep in the tall grass behind a cousin’s house, wakes to the sting of ants feasting on his skin.

We visit Mr. Kim at the car dealership on Sunday after church. My father leaves me in the car, says he’ll be quick. I tremble in the back row, my stomach to the carpet, head tucked beneath the seat.

Do not sweep at night. Do not shower at night or sleep with your hair wet. Do not sleep without at least one light on.

Blue crabs sit in an inch of water in the sink, still alive. My father foregoes silver tongs to reach into that shallow pool. Then pointed claws around his finger, his hand slicing frantic arcs in the air.

Live with your head, not your heart.

My father is not quiet. He laughs loud as an empty can pinwheeling down the sidewalk.

My father sells the most flat-screen TVs at Best Buy and wins the Christmas employee giveaway for me. A red and silver scooter with a back pedal that goes fast. I careen down our driveway on my new gift, my father steering and my hands gripping the handlebars, my palms beneath his.

If you’re leaving the house, if you’re ending a phone call, don’t say goodbye. Say see you later.