Epistolary Shrouds

January 19, 2018
By Anonymous

Dear John
Memory is a weightless thing
when you’ve only lived
11 years.

I remember the symphony of dad’s    laugh.
All you know is the soundtrack of his    shouts.
L u r k i n g  over our kitchen table,
his musical fog now hangs.       Suspended
in its melancholy is not the chorus of conversation
the drone of FOX News rambles
howls after Giants touchdowns
frantic dog barks
a forced, “how was your day, dad?"
a cough
more frantic dog barks
the screech of leg chairs
the sudden mute of TV
and the grande finale,
a door slam.

You don’t yet understand what these sounds mean.

   Your cheeks are as innocent as the questions from your lips.

You can’t recall who he was before he wore a mask of disease.            

   Your hair is blonder than the sun streaks that sometimes leak

   through our living room window.

You must think love flees.                

   Your bony-limbed carpet-wrestling embrace
   lingers longer each night.

don’t be afraid of the man at our kitchen table—remember he was once mine, too.
You might have to throw the football in the hallway     to an imaginary wide receiver
and win your race     without him in the stands
give him a hug when you get home from school.
Let your indigo drawstring pants lean against his pinstripe suit.
Click your iPad off and ask him how his day was, and then maybe
he, too, will ask

you have a basketball game.
Your golden hair will swish with the arc of the ball
As your calves flex above glossy floors
echoing cheer.
The angles in your narrow arms will splice through wind,
moving faster than the ticking scoreboard.
You must have gotten it from him.

Dear Danny
You say you never had a “dad.”
Maybe that’s why you became one for me.

For 17 years
you’ve filled the
to make me
...when dad did not know how to pick up the shovel.

You kissed my poreless cheek in the hospital room
You grasped my plump hand in the shrub-lined sandbox
You carried peonies to each ballet performance
You spun on my desk chair until 2 AM the first night I cried over a boy
You told me to never pick up a random red solo cup
You knocked on my door the morning you left for college, whispering, “Caroline, it’s time.”
You wrapped your arms around me when you first came back home and I squeezed my eyes, knowing
    I did not lose my brother at all.

But together
we lost dad.
time  r             a  n       
from his wrinkled fingertips,
TaNgLiNg his tidy weaves of grey hair.

I cry sometimes in the dusk of my room
while you go blind
(feeling resentment, Mom says)
in the blue-light of your computer screen,
favoring the alternate world of Call of Duty
over the slumping reality
           on the couch

You sometimes hate that man
(Dad is what I call him)
but sometimes    I see him    in you.

He is in your broad, dimpled smile   your long, jutting shoulders   and most of all
your late-night storytellings
when the rectangular tabletop reflects captivated eyes
as red wine dances with glass to the shake of your cackles.
You have his passion for entertaining   his hunger for travel   his zeal for TV-sports-watching.
You have his love for learning history   his hidden tender heart  
and for now, you still have a fragment of him.

So before the crevices in his palms become indistinguishable
and his grey hair tangles too much
leaving his armchair    empty
will you at least tell him    thank you.

Dear Mom
Your   b  r  o  a  d     sl
                                                                  the weight of us all.

I love
         Why is this one the hardest to write?
even when the glue between my fingertips and the screen seems stronger.

I go to you for midnight essay proofreading
for monologues of academic reassurance
for the best winter boots I can steal from your closet
for advice on the knotty webs of life I don’t comprehend
I go to dad for…
                              I don’t go to dad anymore.

I see it
in your thick brown curls   resilient   to the wind
spitting from his lips.
The waves remain   untouched
even as the currents of 70 degree apartment air    grow heavier   each day.

I hear it
when you tiptoe around his late-night shouts     permeating the thick hum of living room A.C.
“I don’t need these pills!”   “You switched medications.”
You try to hush the roars.
John’s asleep upstairs.
a door slams.
The dogs screech.
The building almost  s w a y s.

I feel it
when you     align dixie     cups of blue     capsules on his     bedside table.
brown eyes stare into blue
searching for an instruction manual    or some way to unravel
this man you did not marry.

I smell it
in your midnight whispers
laced with lavender lotion.
Safe from the snores across the hallway  
you ask me quietly, furrowed eyebrows on a weary face,
“Wh-who    was there tonight?    Were there    parents?”
Your wavering voice calms with my instinctive embrace.
I realize: you protect me      when he has forgotten how.

In the darkness of a Saturday night
I hug the bones of your nightgown body.
The lotion in your skin rubs onto mine.
Bare feet inch floorboards away
as you close my bedroom door
thinking     praying
“at least she’s okay.”

Dear Dad
Your office shelves carry piercing
from my earliest days,
the colors so vivid     pure
Worn at the edges and trapped in gold frames
the moments are raw with happiness, a sentiment
from longer days and shorter nights.
My peripheral vision catches
  the tousled-hair picture of us in your arms on the plane,
     next to our black and white baby portraits,
        snapshots from your grinning bachelor days,
           and an orange-tinted silhouette of you in a suit
              gazing at mom in white lace,
   your smile so real it ra d  i   a     t       e          s      through the glass pane.

Deep in that corner of my heart where your sunlight once shone,
I see you again. I see who you were before it all happened
before the days grew shorter and the moon speculated longer.
You can’t remember
so I’ll do the remembering for you.

In the morning you smelled of puffy shaving cream, the scent so pungent it could     seep
through my cavernous cotton sheets and miraculously    whisk me out of bed.
From the top of the stairs I’d hear the crackling of newspaper
my cue to run
                      down and sit     by your side at the breakfast table.
I stored the crinkle of The Sunday Review
deep in my mind’s cabinet, color-coded in a folder labelled     “Sounds I Miss.”

Also in this file       lies your laughter.
You infected it upon any nearby listener while recounting
tales of youthful mischief and your had-to-have-been-there parties.
The cackling noise–bewildering to anyone who could not locate its source–
seemed unforgettable        until  s l o w l y       almost  u n n o t i c e a b l y
you lost the laughter in the messy, overflowing file cabinet of your mind.
Gone it was and so were

I try not to forget you like you forgot yourself.
I try to salvage your   booming   laughter
from the wrinkly remnants of smiles you once produced
under fragile wire glasses.
Perhaps the delicate origami folds outlining
your bright blue eyes  eyes I wish I inherited
will remember the kinetic dance
flesh performs when you laugh.
Perhaps the crevices will
crack open     awakening
the earnest Kansas man
            loving father
                    the mask of disease.
Again, your eyes would glisten with the sun,
not with the empty reflection of the television screen.
The synapses of your elaborate brain would re-co-nnec-t
summoning the warm emotions       lost in memory’s manila folders.

But I know the
                         l.i.m.i.t.a.t.i.o.n.s     of time.

Newspaper-crinkling Sunday mornings are rare now.    Boisterous, cackling storytellings are obsolete.
The parts of you I loved most–your smile, your gaze, your inquisitive brain–may have disappeared
but your legacy is indelible. I inherit the power, an unwavering determination
I learned from you    to sustain the authenticity of your story
and carry the pieces you’ve left behind.     Dad,  
I know you can’t remember anymore
but I will remember

Dear Caroline
Remember when you were 8 years old and dad would bring you to the ballet? In the dimness of the audience, the only visible light oozed from his water-rimmed eyes, their blue pupils reflecting the whirling dancers on stage. His eager neck inclined almost a whole seat forward as his soft face surrendered to the rhythm of the violin. Roughly two feet shorter but not an inch less outstretched, your neck bowed, too, in awe of the magic ahead. By his side you sat    on plush velvet red    wrapped in a pink satin dress with a pink bow and pink slippers that sparkled     almost as much as his eyes.
You never see him cry anymore.

Remember those    warm    snowy nights when dad would come home from a week-long business trip? You heard the snap of the front door unlocking as he dropped that worn black briefcase by his feet. John, 3 years old, his blond hair wet from the bath, and you, almost 8, in a pink leotard that hugged your rib cage, reached into his lingering, pinstripe suited embrace. The fabric was so soft it caressed your cheeks and crinkled around John’s head, which only reached dad’s knees.     
You thought he left you for only 7 days      but he was gone all along.

“He is good.”    
Now   that is what you say.
When people ask, don’t look away.
Smile with that smile he gave you.
Tell–convince them it is all okay.
Convince them it is all okay. They must know he is okay.
Because it is all okay. It is all okay. It is all okay. It is all okay.
It is all okay? is it all khay? is it all okay?? is it all okayy???!?\]?? is id akl ojay?[?ia id al oqay it id alk okasd??y itghhix?? sll ohey id? i aw lal ok?ay is fjs all okay????  id qlll ojlay is all ohay is it hll oj???ay it id alk okay?! it igx sll ohey id il?? aw lal oky?// is fjs al o kay?!?! it id qll?[?]??\]?? opz??!iq ahl pkay?? idit hll okpy?!!!!\]!

No it is not all okay. No this house is not okay. No he is not okay. No you are not okay.
But you will be okay.

Write the moments as they happen. Retain the ones that passed.
Even when tears smack the keyboard, let John   
         hear     his crinkling newspaper
         smell   his puffy shaving cream
         see       the dancing reflection in his puddled blue eyes
through the reality of your words.

One day, years away, you will go to the ballet and sit in his favorite velvet seat. Your wrinkled neck will extend as your dark brown eyes–eyes mom gave you–gleam with the beat. Maybe, inches next to you and two feet shorter, there sits a girl wearing a pink satin dress with a pink bow and pink slippers. You will whisper to her about the man she never met     who cried in the shadows of the audience     enchanted by the magic ahead.

The author's comments:

As I wrote this series, I dismantled the details of an average day in my apartment, while trying to understand how each member of my family experiences it. By addressing each person in a letter, I conveyed a sense of appreciation–even criticism at times–to commemorate the evolution of our respective experiences. I dared to remember the past and the articulate the painful details of the present; this was an emotional task, but a rewarding one, as I learned about the sacredness of the relationships within my family.

I hope to maximize the intimacy between the author and the reader, so that they can at least somewhat relate to the poem’s depiction of family life, even if they have an entirely different family experience.

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