go chase the wild and nighttime streets, sang daddy

In my father’s cosmology, God rose late come Sunday morning,

Having wreaked His vengeance by proxy the night before,

And it was a given that we greeted the Sabbath

With whispers and sock-soft tiptoe,

Knowing that his belt (black, wide, thick with implicit warnings)

Hung within easy reach of the bed,

Though sometimes, with no more explanation than

Man alive, what a beautiful world it is today!

He would stride through house, opening windows as wide as church pews,

Flinging shades upward, ordering us to get dressed and scrubbed,

And, cold cornflake Sabbath brunches  postponed

(Our wonder mixed with consternation and rumbling stomachs)

We would be whisked into the car

In order to sing His praises, our father all but jumping from the car,

Heading toward the preacher at a trot,

Invariably greeting him with Devil’s on holiday, Father,

So here I am (the church was Lutheran,

Though it could have been a mosque for all he cared.)

He’d sit through the sermon, rapt and at attention,

Alternately scowling and smiling, knitting his brow and nodding,

And then he would corner the incumbent occupant of the pulpit

(He’d have scarcely noticed, if at all, that the leadership of the flock

Often changed hands between our cicada-esque appearances)

Backing him into a wall or against a railing

While he jabbered away, pointing or grabbing a sleeve in punctuation,

Gesturing like some latter-day Prospero, arms thrust Heavenward

To embrace the air, the sky, the whole of the cosmos, amen,

While the pastor’s gaze varied from bemusement to outright horror.

Such occasions were outliers, of course,

Father being much more inclined to do wrong

Then stagger home singing a litany of done-me-wrong songs,

And his search for a joyful hundred-proof clarity

Ended before he glimpsed fifty, that being time enough

(So the pathologist noted in his final judgment)

For his liver to become elephantine, his kidneys mere pebbles

(What other effects, be they deleterious or otherwise,

Resulting from his post last-call pilgrimages

Were not listed explicitly nor in the footnotes

Which accompanied the post mortem.)














13 thoughts on “go chase the wild and nighttime streets, sang daddy

  1. “Well I’ve been faithful/ And I’ve been so good/ Except for drinking/ But he knew that I would.”
    Couldn’t help it, but this one called to mind another Tom Wait’s tune.

    “…his search for a joyful, hundred proof clarity….” Great line.

    Very good stuff, sir.

  2. This poem is sad and funny. Your dad— when it came to religious irreverence– sounds like my dad, who used to wink at me, sitting begrudgingly beside him on a folding chair, when the rabbi became overwrought.

    My dad died of lung cancer but I ‘m sure his liver might have had a thing to say.

  3. what an ode! what an extra innings ode! and to your father, makes it all the better and real, but probably painful to experience what sounds like hard living.

  4. Somehow, I imagine this to be Kerouac in another incarnation. Between the belt and cold cornflake brunches, this piece brought to light a very nuanced character, and I enjoyed it from start to finish. Viva la

  5. This is so descriptive that I can see him in my mind. “With whispers and sock-soft tiptoe” in my house we called it ‘walking on eggshells’ – “his belt” or often a hairbrush … anyway, I loved the ending (not that he died) but the impersonal, clinical way this child looks back on his death. There is pain and survival in this “ninety-nine and forty-four hundreths percent autobiography free” piece. I know it resonates with those who know it as 100% true. I also appreciate that you used humor. This is not a feel sorry for me piece but a true, sensitive characterization. Loved this piece!

  6. Isn’t it interesting, the extremes to which humans are drawn. This is quite a portrait…great imagination brought to bear on the subject of behavior, dysfunction, and how we manage to walk the tightrope most of the time. I enjoyed reading this. Fine work.

  7. Aaaahhhh, Carly Simon!!! Her voice will always be in my head.

    Your poem is so striking in the story-telling and is an instant favourite of mine. I love characters which are drawn with a healthy measure of both good and bad, and all human in between, written by a person who sees beyond cause and effect to the humane.

  8. Good Lord, WK, this tore me open. That combination of drinking, hangover and abuse. The tiptoeing in stockinged feet. Both my parents were alcoholics, although my dad’s abuse was different, perhaps because he had three little girls. But this will haunt me all day. So damned real, and the obituary line was killer. Amy

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