ONE LAST NEW CAR
for my father
The end game sneaks up—
suddenly you’re deciding
whether to buy one more
like your own child—takes away
the license, and how many more
jumbo rolls of paper towels will you
need? His own father gave up mid-
way through painting his kitchen. He never
swore aloud, but the half-painted room
said fuck that. He’s been dead twenty years,
but he held my daughter in his lap
before exiting stage left. She doesn’t remember,
but we do. He kept buying tools
until the end, in case of resurrection.
He stopped eating, despite Meals
on Wheels and a dog to share them with,
a bag of his favorite potato chips
unopened. He was a cruncher, that man.
He had a hiding place for money
but nothing to hide. He lived ten more years
after a heart attack at 85, and it still
snuck up on him—the lack of appetite
and interest in baseball scores.
A cop stopped him for driving too
slow, called to tell my father, it’s time—
want me to do it? Dignity has its price.
I wonder if I’m willing to pay.
Check with me in ten years. Twenty. Thirty,
if I’m lucky. Forty if I’m not. I should’ve
talked to my grandfather more instead
of pounding on his fat dog’s chest to hear it grunt.
So, I’m talking to my father now. Where
will I hide money from my daughter? She looked
so cute in that fancy hat, sitting on his lap.
THE SHOUTING MAN
Monongahela River, Pittsburgh
Many of you know the shouting man.
He travels widely in small circles
on city streets world-wide.
Today he holds his arms up like wings
in the sleeves of his filthy green jacket
swooping the air, looking for someone
to shout at. Though he’s shouted at me
many times, despite giving him more
and more space, I still shirk and startle
when he catches me in his furious radar.
His clothes weigh a thousand pounds
and nothing, trying to pull him down.
But he has wings and an armory full
of curses. Poison hair and history.
A mile and a half down the river
the eagle-watchers gather below
the hillside nest with matching
eagle-watching chairs. There are
worse clubs to belong to. They linger
below the nest all-year with large lenses
and backpacks of snacks. They always
clean up after themselves. They greet
all passersby with exaggerated cheer.
I’ve never seen the shouting man this
far from his own nesting grounds
near the younger guy with face tattoos
and his own quiet rat-like malice.
I always look up for the eagles.
I don’t have the patience to get any closer.
If you can see where I’m going, you’re
a wiser person than I am. Perhaps
your own shouting man has given you
directions. I’ve never been able to
connect the dots or balance my checkbook
or shout at strangers or wait for eagles
to soar. I walk the same route daily, hoping
to get lost in my search for the holy land.
I haven’t forgotten about today, when I almost
shouted back at him, but swallowed
down my words. I will continue chewing
until they’re soft enough to feed
my lost children.
it’s so crazy, it just might work.
For a time, during peak drinking years
I sometimes ran out of parties and dove
into piled snow on the ground, covering
myself in mad frenzy, as if putting
out the flames on my own skin.
I called it freshening up. I’d go back
into the party, shaking and cold and wet
with appetite for more. Sometimes,
I’d be given a towel. Sometimes,
another drink. Sometimes, a kiss.
A parlor trick for the amusement
of the high and dry and mighty.
Sometimes it worked, and someone
shouted, Here he is, back from the dead.
MY FATHER’S CLOSE CALLS
1. Matching Ties
Jack McCarthy took a knee, then fell flat,
counted out on the slick factory floor.
At the funeral home, my father led me up
to kneel at casket’s edge. Nice tie, he whispered
fingering his own red and blue stripes
as we knelt on white cushions smudged
with pale dirt of endless knees.
For the last time, I took my father’s hand.
We looked at each other, then stood.
For the last time, he wore that tie.
We believe what we believe— stupid,
but it’s my only prayer. In the bathroom,
Jack’s son Steve, my fifth-grade pal,
told a corny joke, his delirious amplified laughter
echoing over tile-glow. Me, I’d wear my
cute little tie again, on happier occasions
like the resurrection of Christ or the death
of the mean widower next door.
I was young enough to stomp out my age
like a pony at the State Fair and old enough
to sneak in the burlie-Q tent and stare in awe
like I did at my first corpse, redefining
prayer yet again. My tie, a clip-on,
easily removed. Nice tie, my father said,
yet his hand trembled in mine.
2. Mistaken Identity
When my grandfather died, the funeral home’s
felt sign with stick-on plastic letters
read Raymond J, my father, not Raymond A.
He yanked off the J, slipped it in his pocket.
When streetlights quivered off the dark, wet street.
When the moon flew its invisible kite
into his forehead and he called it a headache.
When they could not fix his grandfather’s
heirloom pocket watch. When the doctor
sighed, and said more chemo was a waste.
When he denied the x-rays and perjured himself
on the future’s witness stand. When he snatched
that white plastic initial, and squeezed.
When he hung up on yet another
wrong number asking for the dead man,
but the phone kept ringing.
Give me the J, I told him,
but he never did.
My mother lost her mind one year
and gave me two birds
from the dime store for my birthday.
I was already spending
my allowance on being alone
in the basement or behind the garage.
The other four kids paired up
to laugh or fight equally in love.
When one bird died, my mother
bought a mirror to keep the other
company. When it died
she handed me the mirror and took
the cage away. Maybe she
was the other bird, lonely nights
with cigarettes and beer
waiting for my father to come home
from work, or recover from work.
I could not explain my solitude,
and looking in that mirror
taught me nothing. Did those birds
ever sing? Her song was
the metallic fizz of pull tabs lifting
and the scratch of matches.
Jim Daniels’ latest poetry collections include Gun/Shy, Wayne State University Press, and two chapbooks, The Human Engine at Dawn, Wolfson Press, and the forthcoming Comment Card, Carnegie Mellon University Press. His new fiction collection The Luck of the Fall, Michigan State University Press, is also forthcoming in 2023. A native of Detroit, he lives in Pittsburgh and teaches in the Alma College low-residency MFA program.