Butterfly Kisses

October 21, 2017

I don’t remember you as a father.
I want to say that you tucked me into bed,
told me you loved me, read me stories.
If I think hard enough, I can almost grasp it,
the scratch of your beard against my cheek,
my eyelashes brushing your skin in a butterfly kiss.
There’s a hazy image of fatherhood, of care, of love.
How much of it have I conjured up?
Why are my clearest memories of your booming voice,
harsh words rattling in my chest, blocking
my airways? You pushed me in a corner, perplexed
because you never touched me. What did I have to be afraid of?
The only tenderness came when it was convenient,
when she wanted to leave. Did you plan it that way?
Did you wrap your arm around my shoulders knowing
that she would see, feel guilty? Did you use me to make her stay?
Why was it so easy, then, for you to leave?
I was barely ten years old, my mother constantly sick,
my brother nowhere to be found, my father given
what was essentially a death sentence. Where were you?
You locked yourself away, drove miles upon miles,
and only your body came back. All tenderness gone,
and now I can barely remember the feeling of knowing -
being told and shown – that my father loved me.
Every now and then I catch a glimpse, a flash
of genuine affection, but I’ve lost the ability
to absorb it, reciprocate, say I love you, too.
I don’t even know if I do.

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