Unlike my wont to worry every edge
like a tongue seeks a chipped tooth
my father sought out uncertainty
–happy of any if that became a when.
He expected I’d find the same thrill
in not quite knowing. Instead, I watched
the water’s dark mirror ripple the moon.
He sensed how much I feared failing
him–how uneasy I was to bear his name.
But more mischief than I imagined
squalled in his storm-gray eyes.
I never understood the thrill he found
barreling into twilight–until he materialized
from the trilling dark while a friend and I drank
wharf-warm beer–his baritone cleaving the air
with a blasphemous benediction: I trust you
will misbehave, just before he vanished
into a blue puff of cigarette smoke
and the faerie music of ice tinkling in his scotch.
My brother and I rig fenders
on what was our father’s boat.
Our mother steps from shade
to sun to remind, to instruct.
A widow once more, she wears
a broad-brimmed hat, dark glasses:
the boat another body of her beloved.
She’s sold it to a young father upriver
whose sons will learn the way to care
for a boat like my brother and I did.
I watch our hands tie half-hitches
and fuse frayed ends as we were taught.
Turned pink by the noon’s high sun,
we drop fenders over his gunwales
a final time–just the right height
to protect his sides. Pallbearers anew
we dress him in his funeral best–
shipshape, ready for the next voyage.
Another untidy pilgrim from coastal Alabama, John Miller was sent so often to look up words as a kid, he toted a dictionary to meals. His book, How My Father Became a Boat, is forthcoming from Fernwood Press; his poems have appeared in journals like Anti-Heroin Chic, Comstock Review, and Sheila na Gig.