By FAHIM ZAMAN
I met him the night before
In that signature diner
Where all the cars go to die
Where green stars hide inside
With the man who wears the suit.
Who has milk and cookies, and waits till
The Beatles plays on the radio
That Mr. Hasan forgot to replace
Yes, he who hates his boss,
Works overtime unpaid, with eye bags, stress lines,
Strands of silver, and stays. Yes, he who cannot sleep
On subways, talks to plants, always
Drinks alone, but is always invited out, and
For kids who still think it exists,
Is consecutive winner of employee of the month –
Every month except for that October,
On the seventh, when his daughter’s
Beetle was found under a bridge, by the river.
But tonight he is safe, he has his cookies, his milk, and music
But tonight he has a yellow journal.
His daughter gave it to him when
She moved away but again and again
He never bothered to open it. Tonight
His first words, he writes:
Dear Daphne with the flower dress,
Daphne with the silver eyes, Dear
Daphne that asked me with bugs
In your hands, “what’s grass Dada?”
That dreamer, Daphne, with the dyed
Green hair and with the marriage
I christened so soon after, Daphne that
Just found her first love, yes, that Daphne.
And I, your father, who answered to “ask
Your mother” about grass and mother asked
How you two met and your father, I, who didn’t. Yet
Your father who buried mother seven days after.
Where was your fiance? Father who didn’t ask
And called your new apartment and asked what the
Yelling was? “Just the movie we have on; it’s about lies.”
Father who just thought everyone has a bad day
When he shouted for breaking a vase and
Who thought the holidays you spent away
Were because you were tired of me, who
Spoke more than you did, and who,
Who never saw the bruise that night,
You drove home with blue embers in your eyes,
Covered in tears, “it’s just me, just me.”
And I, Dada, believed you.
Then there’s the boy. He’s
Knocking at the door and he
Smells like the subway cause you took
The car and the baby’s his and here
You’re gonna have your happy ending and
Here you’re staying with me, and tomorrow
We’ll go look for cicada shells in Central,
Identify lemongrass or pampas, and you’ll
Fall like you fell into that river when the algae
Made it look like grass and Dada will pull
You up with his strong arms, and –
Eventually, the sun had come and played,
Blackbirds too, the garbage truck heaved by,
And Mr. Hasan had to do morning prayers,
And I joined him.
Air was richly furnished with cold, sky
Mauve, and thanked him, took a hot
Cocoa to go, drank it alone down the street.
I found it by a riverside
In the bower far from sun, and
The dates were old and faded;
Something iambic, and poetic
Had been written as an epitaph:
“Do dwindle”? “Do dwell”? “Do as I may”?
And maybe something more.
But on the bed of the grave
Was a sprout of laurel so I
Laid down my flowers and tried
To cup some water from nearby
But it all seemed to slip through
And in that reflection of shade
My fingers seemed painted into someone else. But if
You peered too deep, too long, a specter
Of shards, delineated by fate, shatters, ripples,
And calms. Then effervesces a String of smoky silk, like
The taste of a monarch. And would you, if you
Looked away, would you swallow it then go; but you stayed,
You stayed and he handed it over, threaded with crystals
Of the coolest, freshest ice found; would you laugh if
They cut you, bled, and froze then –
They were tears. I poured it on you.