My Uncle at 85

Written by RitaC on February 5th, 2013

You stand at the corner of Wayne and Brooklyn
outside the family tavern, still straight and tall at 6’4″.

You are my last uncle–not my favorite from childhood–
but my best-loved beyond those small parameters.

In your tan jacket and tan snap-brim hat
your hands thrust into pockets of maturity,

A familiar sway to ease your back,
you gaze past trim houses and spring lawns.

Blue eyes clear enough to swim in,
harbor no revenge for old torments–

A red hand-print on your face,
the moonshine rage of your father,

Your downy hair on end from being lifted by it
and shaken like a rat by a dog,

The bruised arms and welted back,
the fist, the strap, slaps, and punches–

Making you think it was your fault
your father’s life was all wrong.

None of it shows in your posture–
you didn’t let him or anybody suck you down.

None of it shows in your life except maybe
the nights on bar stools over the years,

And the slight stammer, sometimes–
needle in the groove, needle in the groove.

You left it behind, your hair shorn,
donning Army fatigues, dodging bullets,

Slogging across Europe like so many others,
driving Hitler to his death.

You outran it driving moonshine around
Tennessee mountains jutting into smoky skies,

Your county, dry and Baptist,
planting another seed for NASCAR.

You said No to cheap Southern acreage
and Yes to the factory-promise up north,

Coming with us to a flat land
where a drawl was foreign–and laughable.

From 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. you ran your machine,
that spat out auto parts, one after another after another.

Summer weekends, you brushed new color
on faded homes in splotched white coveralls and a painter’s hat.

You supported the parish church, your wife’s,
the fish fries, the Monte Carlo nights,

The parochial school where your two boys
learned catechism and served as altar boys.

Each Sunday you came to our house in the suburbs,
decorated with small trees and swing sets,

The four of you, to a fried chicken dinner
as good or better than the Colonel’s came to be,

A mound of peppered mashed potatoes
with a pool of butter in the middle

Green beans and ham, hot cornbread,
sliced red and yellow tomatoes, fried okra,

Seconds insisted upon, a big slice
of a fluted fruit pie, cherry, peach, or apple,

Your solemn face split wide open by a smile
eclipsing the past, inviting the future


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