Hester L Furey
You are the center, my word of power,
my whole life a series of your spokes,
of radii beginning with you
in the short overlap between us.
All my life I have flirted with Death
for your sake, but as I give her up,
Father, I lose you --
each day your flesh retreats a little
further from my mind’s anxious touch.
I gather now only buckeyes you carried,
copper bracelets, a feathered hipster hat, cocked to one side.
I find your smell on a lover's cheeks
from time to time, or asthmatic, I belt out
your wheezing, irresistible laugh,
and a few spoken phrases
catch me unawares in your voice.
You are becoming an idea, a story:
a wild old wicked man, a rake of the thirties,
the third son, the one who had adventures,
who threw parties every week and invited everybody,
right down to the police.
You kept a gun propped behind the bedroom door,
another across the back of the car, a pistol
in your desk, and probably another on your person,
for reasons we never discussed.
You talked to me about social policy from infancy
and invented “take your daughter to work day”
long before feminists thought of it. At three
I learned to read, so you gave me encyclopedias.
You left home in your teens,
with only a sixth grade education.
In 1929 when your mother died,
you came back to the farm in Amboy.
Then the market crashed, and
men dived from buildings in the big cities.
You hated farming. You opened
a laundromat, a bus station, bought an inn,
opened a bonded warehouse,
bought cotton for Hohenberg Brothers.
All through the Depression,
you had money when no one else did.
You let Mr. Philips borrow your car to court Miss Ruby,
and you never let anyone else pick up the tab.
At the height of success
you suddenly left everything behind,
the respect of your neighbors, the goodwill of family,
even a cabin at the river,
for a stubborn girl, crazy in fact,
young enough to be your daughter.
Later, you complained to her mother, almost your age.
The girl was wild and uncontrollable, you said.
She lied every day, drank, started brawls in public places,
and spent money like a house on fire. As if you didn't know.
The mother had herself a good laugh, wiped her eyes
on her apron, and served you more cabbage,
just the way you liked it, still a little crunchy,
steamed with butter and pepper.
Then she served you an old country joke.
"You wanted her so bad," she said.
"You got her. She's yours. We won't take her back."
The crazy girl did love you, in her way.
She knew that I preferred you, so when I asked,
she brushed me off, saying you cared only
for “women and money,” but in a good mood
after a few drinks she loved to recount
your life together, the good and bad
mixed together so that I grew up perverse,
unable to tell which was which:
The time you almost bit her toe off,
or the time she drove up and found you with Mary,
did not ask questions, just reached down and threw
a cinder block through the cabin window,
and you refused to fix it all winter long.
Before she died, she cracked herself up telling
about the babysitter who ate your chocolate rabbit.
Coming home from a party to find
the tub full of cold clean water,
me in bed with black filthy feet,
and the rabbit missing from the freezer,
the two of you parsed these signs
and discussed your conclusions.
She raged, "I told her to bathe Lee, damn it!" but
you said drily, "Naw, she thought you said,
`just go on in the kitchen,
an' eat up every damn thing in sight.'"
When you died you had lived with diabetes
and suffered cancer twice, but I always believed
– the therapist got this one the wrong way around –
my mother had finally killed you.
Over her protests, you had named me
Hester after your mother,
the only woman, you said, who ever really loved you,
the one whose death called you home.
The crazy girl called me “baby” for 3 weeks,
unable to say the name while I nearly died
before Dr. Lee saved me with goat's milk.
Sometimes I still run into people who knew you.
They tell me I have your hands.
Hester Furey teaches college English. She has published Dictionary of Biography 345: American Radical and Reform Writers, Second Series (She compiled and edited the volume, wrote the intro and two other essays), various academic essays and reference book pieces, and a chapbook of poems called Little Fish (Finishing Line Press, 2010). She lives in Decatur, Georgia.