My father’s name for me was shit-for-brains
those autumn days we spent clearing the hillside of brush,
the whine of his chainsaw in the buzzing cold,
my arms numb from stacking wood in the truck.
I was distracted, never moved quick enough,
wishing the day would fall aside like dead leaves,
eager to return home come dusk to a home
that wasn’t a home, not really,
but another of my father’s make-do inventions:
a cinderblock building he built for his auction business
but moved our family into
when he lost the house we rented.
Sign painter, antiques dealer, real estate salesman, auctioneer.
And now, an architect.
My father’s old self-hoods constantly sputtered into embers.
I was less a son than a reluctant assistant
to a poor-man magician
robbing Peter to pay Paul
for each new venture.
I learned lessons in painting and polishing junk;
I made the honor roll in teenage resentment. I learned
what I did and didn’t want to become:
like the walls of our modest apartment,
chipboard thin when I wanted to keep everyone out:
I pictured myself in a different kind of life. In my bedroom,
there wasn’t even a window.
But then my father bought this little half-cleared lot
up a winding, dirt-road holler:
the old family farm, a half-haunted orchard
sold off piecemeal by an uncle. And now,
the promise of our first good family home,
an overdue correction,
but couldn’t Dad see I’d be off at college
before the foundation he poured cemented?
I watched him stay up late over stubborn blueprints,
told him river-rock siding was a good idea
but windows needed to open.
It took years, but he laid the gas and water lines himself,
managed the house’s framing and the laying of its roof.
Then cancer: a lifetime of smoking
and cleaning paint from his hands with turpentine-soaked rags.
He died in the “temporary” cinderblock apartment,
left us all with work undone.
My father, the architect, made impossible blueprints
this shit-for-brains somehow finds a way to follow:
All the things I want to finish but don’t,
they keep me up these late-night hours.
I’m still clearing brush out of my head up that hollow,
chainsaw-teeth biting into soft pulp.
I want leaves and branches
to rise back to their trees, but time won’t reverse
—it only devours.
My father stands in the failing light. Yells for me to hurry up.