POP He thought he was wrong once. He was mistaken. He's mistaken almost always, wounded by banshees and band mates, been handed empty promises a bunch, and driven drunk more times than anyone ever has in history. HE IS DRIVING DRUNK THIS VERY SECOND SOMEWHERE IN ARKANSAS. Everything has almost killed him. He works relentlessly. Breathes the same breaths as bad men and broken brilliance, often in the same day. His time clock sits chest high in front of him, and then he winds himself from truck wheels to porch to computer desk, leaving a trail of nicotine, methane, and beer cans in his wake. He wins small wars in smaller towns everyday that the sun decides it has the strength to shine or be seen. Building roads isn't always a metaphor. When some people build roads, it hurts their back, knees become rubber toys left in the sun by the work that makes hands bloody. My father's hands are always bloody. Funerals are Family Reunions or The fortune cookie monster speaks a 21 gun salute. (for Uncle Phil) 1. No fortune cookie he gave me ever warned of his heart stopping on an Arkansas two lane highway. No soft tan crack ever told him to be cautious driving alone. Fortune cookies can not really see the future. Fun desserts can not save your life. 2. Not being able to say goodbye is a tornado on the horizon. You can feel the rumble and sorrow on the surface, but have to wait out the storm. 3. When a loved one dies, family becomes lightning rod safety for the shock of loss. That is what keeps your house from burning down. 4. Most families say, “Mother-in-law, Brother-in-law, Sister-in-law,” etc. No one ever says “Uncle-in-law.” My family refuses all of this. We are a “Family- in-love.” Warts and all. My family is a wart covered witch capable of the most beautiful toothless magic. From racist whites, to albino blacks, we are a checkered past, and zebra stripped future. We do not need your approval. 5. At the funeral, five generations sat together on a couch. Eighty years apart and hundreds of relatives in common. No one thought to take a picture. A voice behind me said, “this is real tough, but god help us all when the old man goes,” meaning my Grandaddy. At a certain age, “if” becomes “when.” Some of us are born at that age, some never reach it. 6. Some people collect guns for protection, others for ego, others out of anger. Uncle Phil collected guns like toys or baseball cards. For fun. A racist anarchist who paid his taxes, he was a patriot with no concept of borders. 7. Arkansas breeds better fireflies and mosquitoes than cotton. Illinois breeds better fireflies and mosquitoes than corn. Most families are fireflies, my family are all mosquitoes. 8. I hugged a cousin whose name I couldn’t remember. I hadn’t seen him since a 1987 wedding. Funerals are family reunions. There are times to be thankful for death. 9. I handed a copy of my newest book to a different cousin. There was a poem about her, but no true acknowledgment of who she was in the book. I felt like a plagiarist. I felt like an irresponsible child. I’m sorry Shonda. 10. Illinois and Arkansas are the only states with a silent “S” at the end. Boom, metaphor. 11. Living 1,600 miles from your family is the easiest long distance relationship you will ever have because the opportunity for sex has been removed from the equation. Hopefully. 12. At least two members of my family have been married to someone they were related to before the wedding. Those are the confirmed cases. 13. It wasn’t me. Although, I did have confusing feelings about a cousin once. 14. My family will probably not talk to me for a while after reading this poem, but will forgive me because they are my family and already know I’m an asshole. (Besides, half of them can’t read and the other half will be too busy pointing fingers about numbers 12 and 13 to be all that angry.) 15. My family deals with loss through bad jokes, pot, booze, and arguments. All of us larger than life itself in each other’s eyes. When one of us dies, the ruckus will be as loud as the love was. 16. When Uncle Phil died we partied for two days. We shed tears and hangovers like skin. We rode motorcycles, fast, and prayed like hell if we did get pulled over it would be by a member of the family and not some regular cop. Most of us had warrants, broken hearts, and a pretty good buzz. A less than healthy combination for driving an unregistered bike, but perfect for a funeral or family reunion. 17. I loved my Uncle Phil 18. My Uncle Phil loved me. 19. Once, when I was eight or so, Uncle Phil took my parents and I out for dinner while he and Mama’s sister, Aunt Patti, were up for a visit. Chinese food. He saw how much I liked the fortune cookies and bought an extra dozen to take home. The cookies were meant for all of us, but in the morning, while the adults slept, I snuck into the kitchen and ate them. I denied knowledge of the cookies when asked, no doubt crumbs on my lips and little white guilty verdict paper slips falling from my pockets like little white lies. Uncle Phil dubbed me the “fortune cookie monster.” He called me that until the day he died. Every time we saw each other he bought me fortune cookies. Sometimes, they were chocolate covered. 20. Family is a gift that I have not always remembered to cherish. There are people who are always on my side, even when I’m wrong. 21. Especially when I’m wrong.
December 4, 2014