Should my father not want to talk to me, I would
stand at the door anyway, defiant as a tone off key.
Enter the flophouse, a hall I won’t call a lobby.
Meet the landlady who closes her housecoat
as she saunters in green flipflops toward me.
Hear the floorboards creak as her guarded calm
makes my shadow a person. How the eye looks at a face
after seeing so many shades of darkness.
What should be a short walk across the rug
doused by dust in a front room would be silent,
but for the little TV on a small table.
How its hum might weigh down this home for ease,
the way idle hours fade in a sepia hue of photos,
where cobwebs droop against the old wallpaper.
I would pass the couch alone as a forgotten song.
Wander as a blue note rousing suspicion, and wonder
which of the rundown chairs comforts his leisure.
Wonder what it’s like to stomach a shower, a sink,
a toilet shared by a half dozen men. I would labor to relax
the shivering fog in my bones. And what strange tenor
touches, not just the soul, but bewilders the nerves,
the words telling the landlady whose son I am.
Lamplight would wait like a clothes bag under the edge
of my father’s bed, as if he never took time to unpack it.
I can’t fathom wanting to be that hidden, shut away
by his hand. I would not yield to his cat-like caution,
and stare from an armchair, should he not rise
with a smile to greet me at the door.
In the room I am a stranger. Someone who
sees a drunk not veiled enough to hide the rotgut
since his face shows a hangover. And someone
who loses himself for the damp word of promise
where smoke rolls upward from a Pall Mall.
My father raises the window. His cough
and dull teeth flare over a half-empty fifth
of Irish booze too heavy for uninhibited thirst.
In the room I cross a lake to sit on his bunkbed.
I cross a river, its tears, to silence. Someone who
blinks away the uninvited sadness. Salt shivers
in my eye, crumbled stone, an eye that does not
want to see a father made bodiless by liquor.
I want to be more than a hangover, a smoke, a cough.
In the room I leave the lake in the bottle.
Watch it splash against the chair.
Crash land. See it seize a corner of the floor.
Detest the peel and chip of dirt. Maybe we
could be more than a huff out of the glass hole.
Be the home talk only we can give each other,
words that stay cool, stay warm, stay close like
the midwife of a birth. In the room, the lake
lingers its finale, spilled on the floor,
where everything we say fills the space
left in the bottle. November in the window,
breeze lifts the curtains. Father and son talk.
The stranger is gone.
Phillip Shabazz is the author of three poetry collections, and a novel in verse. His poetry has been included in the anthologies, Literary Trails of the North Carolina Piedmont: A Guidebook, and Home Is Where: African-American Poetry from the Carolinas. Some previous publication credits in journals include, Across the Margin, Fine Lines, Galway Review, Hamilton Stone Review, Ham Lit, Obsidian, and Louisville Review.