Riding in a Taxi Cab with My Father

Being with my father was like riding in the back seat of a taxicab
You never wore your seatbelt
Because you always felt safe.

When my father was born he was already a year old
          But it wasn’t some miracle
You see
My father was born at home
And his father was so drunk when he filled out the birth certificate that he wrote 39
Instead of 40
Thereby putting a pace onto my father that no man could sustain

Now my father was born in Harm, Texas
And that ain’t poetic license
Not everybody’s hometown can be Pleasant Valley
Or Pleasanton
Or Paradise
Sometimes hometowns are a little more sinister
Like Hell, Michigan
Or Deadhorse, Alaska
Or Washington, D.C.

One year older than he was supposed to be, my father stopped going to school and started
taking the bus to Houston to work as a shoeshine boy
One year older than he was supposed to be, my father joined the Navy
Sailed the seas
Was pictured in National Geographic
Came home
Became an
And fell in love
One year older than he was supposed to be
My father retired
Which made us all wonder,
Maybe grandpa had a deeper plan with his drunken hand.

My father had a temper like a hand grenade
And he was known to pull the pin
But he also had a heart the size of a blanket so big that when he tossed it over you it
would block out the sun for a brief moment
Before it covered you
Warmed you
Made you feel safe
Like riding in the backseat of a taxicab without wearing your seatbelt.

And he used to always ask me
“What are you thinking?”
          And I would reply, “About what?”
And he would say, “About anything.”

And while that used to annoy me a little bit
I would give anything to answer that question now

I would tell him
I am thinking about when I was a little boy in Arizona
Sitting on your shoulders in the pool
My fingers rubbing against the stubble of your face
Waiting for you to throw me in the deep end
I’m thinking about your booming voice coming across the soccer fields
Go Toddo!
I’m wondering why you used to call me “Rooskie”
That I want to know where you got the idea to get a pair of lips tattooed on yer ass—
Cuz I think that’s fucking classic
I would say I’m thinking about that Christmas when you and mom
And Leslie and me
Got so drunk watching Singin’ in the Rain that we couldn’t even eat dinner
So we just left the table all set up and let the candles burn down
I would tell him I’m thinking of how much of him I see in me
That I’m trying to become the man that he is—


On August 8th at 7:02 p.m. 2004
I was just beginning to pass out watching Family Guy through the row of empty Sierra Nevada bottles on the coffee table
When the phone rang
It was my mother

And while she tried to explain to me that my dad just seemed to nod off while they were
discussing a color scheme for their new bedroom
I fell apart.

Spent the time between long distance calls learning to pray
Learning that all the things I do in an attempt to earn karmic points couldn’t be cashed in
Or transferred to another account
That sometimes the words
Seemed to be mutually exclusive

You see I had always followed my father
And now that it seemed he had stopped moving—
I didn’t know where to go.

On August 9th at 4:26 a.m. 2004
My mother held the phone up to my father’s ear so I could say goodbye to him
Someone had told her that a person’s hearing was one of the last things that stopped functioning.

The next few days were a blur of airports, rental cars, picture boxes, and “I’m sorrys”
I recall being offended that someone was taking pictures
That this was the first time I had seen the ocean and didn’t care
That I just wanted to hide under the covers and wait to be shaken
That if all this could just be some nightmare
I would learn whatever lesson it was trying to teach me
But it wasn’t
And all I learned is that a heartbeat doesn’t mean you’re alive
That aneurisms can T-bone taxicabs.

On the flight back to California a woman walked past my seat as she was boarding
Face streaked from her tears
Red from her fingers wiping them away
It was the first time I truly understood a stranger
Understood that she was beginning that same sad journey I was coming from
And I wanted to say something profound
Something that would comfort her
But I just let her pass by without saying a word
Because like her
I wanted to be invisible
And sometimes words are just meaningless vibrations

I decided on that flight home that one year to the day I would get my ass tatted too
Walk out in the middle of a meadow and read my poems to an open sky—
Arms raised
Waiting for my dad to block out the sun as he throws down his blanket over me
Covering me
Warming me
Making me feel safe again

Like riding in the back of a taxicab without wearing my seatbelt.