The Song I Know My Father By
The idea of my father, fifty-two listening
to Eric Burden and the Animals' version
of 'The House of the Rising Sun'
blaring out the digitalized Honda sunroof
is absurd—the radio was never on in the car—
my father was a whistler—
'Honeysuckle Rose, ' that Fats Waller song
of the imagined, the improbable sweet
flower, that was his melody. He almost always
whistled it while he drove—I'm not saying
he couldn't yell a child down
to the cellophane girder of himself—I'm not denying that—
the only person I ever heard call someone a jack-off—
'A-h-h-h you jack-off― get your hand outta' your pants
and drive― turn already― for chrissakes! '—the same person first thing
found my cousin Marvin—Marvin, about an inch and a half away
from being what used to be disdainfully not even confidentially
referred to as a complete dunce—was the first cousin
gathered up in his arms when the family came together
to eat and knock political leaders while they played poker,
telling their stories about pregnancies and debt,
relating remedies to look less bald, announcing imperatives
on that very day where to find the oranges with the sweetest juice
at the lowest price—“don’t forget it.”
When there was a pile of money in the pot—to make a winner
we used to kiss the folded-down cards for them.
My father nodding to me, he asked Marvin,
“Kiss this card to win, I’ll give you a buck, Marvin, ”—
he with that smile, thirty-three years later
turned into a perplexed grin.
I think Fats Waller was into the flow so deep
he made a fantasy about sweetness
with his melody, 'Honeysuckle Rose.'
By that song I knew
when my father was on the pathway
between box hedges—two years after
he worked his ass off in an airplane parts factory
toward the end of the Korean War—the salesman
back from a call, usually from the middle of nowhere,
whistling out there, the father home from work
before the arm of great hair held me up
to the face with short mustache bristles
I endured like anything else
unpleasant in love.
I don't know what I mean to say exactly
about that song in relation to my father.
The man just whistled it.