My father wore the dead cold like a coat
(he always took a pen, but never keys),
the pavement iced and surer of its step
than he. In his last fall he’d started school
and now he watched the clock hands like a boy,
and dreaded going home to no one there.
He’d check the cordless for a dial tone,
recall the number with his fingertips,
and let her chatter on about her day
at school – the way he would if he were there --
and look out the glass, counting cars go past
till surely time or money had run out.
In every winter drawer and cranny, dust –
except one cupboard door he opened most
was filled to overflowing, left untouched.
He fumbled for his wallet, gauging his
successes by the things he’d left inside,
too often every pocket, shelf, and drawer,
discovered emptier by him and time.
The floor was rumpled by the angry things
that should have been on hangers, hid away,
he stuffed it all into a plastic bag,
slung it over his shoulder as he left.
Inside, the building’s walls were stale, and public,
were streaked with WalMart tinsel, piss, and worse.
His laundry, nearly finished, turned and whirred.
He looked outside, where frost was paving fast;
outside, where tree limbs trembled with no cover.
They found him slumped asleep, shook him awake.
He clumsily collected all his things,
still wet, made heavy by the garbage bag
he cradled like a little sleeping girl.
And as he slipped back out into the cold,
he took a breath, was sure to look both ways,
and stepped into traffic.