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What He Is, Is Dead

O, Papa, how I wish you were here to kiss my cheek and call me Kitten.

Dead, dead, dead is what I think now when I think, “Father.” My father’s dead. My father’s underground. More than a decade, my father’s moldered. His big belly’s deflated. His big belly’s dust and rubble. His big head’s chewed down to bone. His bridgework’s loose. I suppose that the gold on the teeth my husband fixed for him still glitters. I feel sure that the dark suit he wore to lawyer in is lint and the pockets empty and buttons dropped off. Every year he has more room in his coffin. He could toss if he wanted to. He could turn. I am not supposed to think these thoughts. I am not supposed to think, as I did just now, that my father’s flesh long ago ceased to rot. Even beetles have finished the dinner of him and the skeins of ants are long gone. I am supposed to think elevating thoughts.

At the very least I am supposed to think that flecks of who he was showed up in the soybeans that grow near his house and that those soybeans fatted an Iowa hog and that hog gave her pork chop to a hungry truck driver in Bakersfield who does not guess that his chop’s succulence carries my father’s smidgen of Cherokee blood, his tendency to run to fat and sorrow, his equal fondness for English gardening magazines and S&M pornography.

More conventionally, I am supposed to think that my father’s come back in his grandson, that he donated genes for the 180 IQ points that let Nick be quick at math. I am supposed to think that he taught me always, every year, no matter what, to plant blue flowers, and that in turn I taught my daughters. I am to remember him when I brush against tall blue delphinium spikes. I am to remember him when wind shakes blue petals loose. I do.

I say to myself, out of all hearing, Dead dead dead is what he is. What he is, is dead. Even his last Scottie dog is dead, as are all his orange squalling fat tortoise cats. My father’s lost to me. I am lost to him. All is lost to him. All. I never address him. I never look up at the sky or down at the dirt or at my small hand which is so like his — stubby and short-fingered and grubby with ink — and say, O, Papa, how I wish you were here to see this and hear this and smell this and lean over from your vast height and kiss my cheek and call me Kitten. He is not here. He can do nothing. He does not comb his hand idly through his grandson’s dark hair and tell him that his great-great grandfather was nicknamed Oatmeal, for the basin of oatmeal he ate each morning and swilled down with sour mash whiskey. He does not even know he has a grandson. He is not here to learn that Rebecca moved to south Florida and just last weekend reeled in an iridescent fish half as long as she is tall or that Nick’s mother Sarah not only got her degree but she also finally learned to parallel park. He is not here to mail off the family photographs to. Listen, please. Understand. I can say no more than this. My father, alas, can say nothing. His ear isn’t warm against a phone. Someone else has his number.

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Dead, dead, dead is what I think now when I think, “Father.” My father’s dead. My father’s underground. More than a decade, my father’s moldered. His big belly’s deflated. His big belly’s dust and rubble. His big head’s chewed down to bone. His bridgework’s loose. I suppose that the gold on the teeth my husband fixed for him still glitters. I feel sure that the dark suit he wore to lawyer in is lint and the pockets empty and buttons dropped off. Every year he has more room in his coffin. He could toss if he wanted to. He could turn. I am not supposed to think these thoughts. I am not supposed to think, as I did just now, that my father’s flesh long ago ceased to rot. Even beetles have finished the dinner of him and the skeins of ants are long gone. I am supposed to think elevating thoughts.

At the very least I am supposed to think that flecks of who he was showed up in the soybeans that grow near his house and that those soybeans fatted an Iowa hog and that hog gave her pork chop to a hungry truck driver in Bakersfield who does not guess that his chop’s succulence carries my father’s smidgen of Cherokee blood, his tendency to run to fat and sorrow, his equal fondness for English gardening magazines and S&M pornography.

More conventionally, I am supposed to think that my father’s come back in his grandson, that he donated genes for the 180 IQ points that let Nick be quick at math. I am supposed to think that he taught me always, every year, no matter what, to plant blue flowers, and that in turn I taught my daughters. I am to remember him when I brush against tall blue delphinium spikes. I am to remember him when wind shakes blue petals loose. I do.

I say to myself, out of all hearing, Dead dead dead is what he is. What he is, is dead. Even his last Scottie dog is dead, as are all his orange squalling fat tortoise cats. My father’s lost to me. I am lost to him. All is lost to him. All. I never address him. I never look up at the sky or down at the dirt or at my small hand which is so like his — stubby and short-fingered and grubby with ink — and say, O, Papa, how I wish you were here to see this and hear this and smell this and lean over from your vast height and kiss my cheek and call me Kitten. He is not here. He can do nothing. He does not comb his hand idly through his grandson’s dark hair and tell him that his great-great grandfather was nicknamed Oatmeal, for the basin of oatmeal he ate each morning and swilled down with sour mash whiskey. He does not even know he has a grandson. He is not here to learn that Rebecca moved to south Florida and just last weekend reeled in an iridescent fish half as long as she is tall or that Nick’s mother Sarah not only got her degree but she also finally learned to parallel park. He is not here to mail off the family photographs to. Listen, please. Understand. I can say no more than this. My father, alas, can say nothing. His ear isn’t warm against a phone. Someone else has his number.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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