Next to, of course, April, January is the cruelest month
with profit and loss statements and payroll reports
all due by the calendar year and the days being so short
it was already dark by the time he got home, pencil
smears upon his white cuffs, his hard black shoes
waking us as he paced the hall, tense and tortured.
But after the deadline, time changed and pencils
turned into crayons, presents and trips and music;
we watched our father dance with our mother to Don't Be Cruel,
the twist his only move in months that didn't involve
tapping on a ten-key, pushing paper around on a desk.
Sometimes it doesn't pay to write things down.
But when I was six, my father won the money
for my first bicycle in a Christmas Eve poker
game, taking money from other number crunchers
who spanked their children if they caught them counting.
Though he told the jokes, that was never his style.
When I was two years old I was attacked by a one-eyed
rooster. For therapy, my father let me watch him
kill that rooster, let me help Grandma fry him up
then they told me to eat him. Sometimes the richest
man in the county wears old overalls and drives a beat up truck;
when he offered his prospective CPA a can of Prince Albert
and a pack of rolling papers, the deal was sealed for the man
who couldn't wine and dine but could roll his own cigarette,
soft, counting thumbs wiggling, tongue wetting his lips
delicately caressing the paper. Adding machine tape
curling as one of the first toys in my memory, the
numbers always add up, and if they don't, what is the
first thing you check for? We knew it then; we all know it still.
The important things happen after tax season.
Once, the robins that came back and nested
every year in our oak tree came flying to the patio door
screeching, and when my father went out to see
what the commotion was about, they flew around
his head, like they were asking for help. He looked
up at their nest and saw the giant blacksnake,
menacing and thick, preparing to wrap itself
around the nest. My father shot that snake,
and we saw it fall from the tree branch to the ground.
The next year, when the robins returned, my brother
had reached puberty and gotten a .22 for his birthday
so he shot the birds. Things like that stuck with my
father, like the answer to the question that preserves us:
check to see if your balance is divisible by nine,
then look for a transposition. Some of us are looking
still, searching for a balance of zero, divisible by everything,
the answer always nothing.
Published in Facets, February 2006