Poetry: The Hand of My Father by Mark Parsons

The Hand of My Father

His face weather-beaten, lined and creased

My father was a violent unpredictable man

With a voice like a masonry saw cutting sidewalk

When he browbeat me

Enumerated my faults, shortcomings and weaknesses

Explained how these would be my undoing in a world that wasn’t kind to the strong or well-formed

Such as myself

After working on the roof of the Goodyear tire plant

Particles of vulcanized rubber under the skin of his face, neck, hands and arms

So he looked like a coal miner from the mountains where he was born and never returned

The rubber granules impossible to wash out

But getting expressed slowly

Seeping into the blood

Filtered out through bladder, colon, sweat glands, tear ducts, hair

My father was a musical prodigy in the mountains of West Virginia

Whose sadistic domineering mother forced him to go to college on a football scholarship

Because it paid more

A pulling guard, short and quick

He blew out his knee, failed his classes and got expelled

Turning his back on education, family and music

Bitter and resentful

He drifted around the country, working odd jobs

Seasonal work

In orchards, logging camps, resorts

He did whatever it took

Masterless, a lone wolf, beholden to no man

Without prospects

He still had flash, a little style

Listened to The Kingston Trio and dressed like Ray Charles

Resurfacing back east he mopped hot tar on the roofs of hospital and libraries

Prisons and retail stores, manufacturing plants and factories

Alongside men who couldn’t read or legally drive a car

Roofer, foreman, superintendent, contractor

Bidding on jobs

Working his way up to management

From peasant stock

My father broke his back for his lord

That is, whoever paid him

In this case a man in Pittsburg named Harry

Until buying him out

Only to sell the company years later

For several million dollars

A mathematical savant

In the interim

My father taught himself to program

When Apple kickstarted the personal computer revolution with the Apple II

First in Basic, then DOS, and finally C

Coding with the 1989 standard release “Hello, world!”

He wrote software to run the company

Estimate job costs, send out invoices, do the books

He designed a server to host the programs and data, and then viruses

To infiltrate and destroy it all

After he sold the company

Did all this for enjoyment, for the challenge, the thrill of it

My father was a hacker, a cybercriminal

Before there were laws to regulate virtual reality

But he couldn’t evade the natural law of supply and demand at work in his blood

Seated in his cobalt blue velvet wingchair

He’d drink a 2 liter of anything carbonated and sweet after dinner

While the laws of physics conducted a widening feedback loop of blood sugar highs and lows

Until his moods were no longer a roller coaster of high-strung irritability and torpor

No longer up and down

Just up all the time

Way high up

Where it was hard to tell if he was even there anymore

Behind the living room’s 5th wall of permanent hyperglycemia

A diabetic fugue state running binary code

0s and 1s filling the black screen of his mind

My father reaching over himself to pick up a burning roach

From the edge of the glass ashtray with his thumb and index finger like alligator clips

Bringing the hot stub to his lips

His nails orange and thick and as big as coal shovels

Holding in the smoke

While he dry-spits flakes of tobacco

Then mashing out the unfiltered Camel

And taking a draw from a Solo cup

Filled with something florescent orange or green or yellow

Like the dayglo weight forward fly-fishing line he used

The un-natural color better to see the virtuoso undulations

As he cast the line, laying it down like cake piping

On the White River, drifting in an innertube

His pale waxy nerve-damaged shins and feet in stocking foot waders

Black rubber swim fins creating drag in the meanders

The migration of the river in geologic time

Mirroring the waveform of each masterful cast

Catching 20-inch browns on ¼ inch hooks

A master fly-fisherman, peerless and without equal

The same year a cowboy on a billboard said he’d walk a mile for a Camel cigarette

My father walked 14 miles for a Camel

Having parked his car and walked several miles to where he wanted to fish

Only to realize he hadn’t brought his cigarettes

So walked all the way back

By the time I was old enough to notice his fingers

Stained bright orange like he’d been eating cheese curls from a can

The creamy jade interior of his El Camino

Gave me headaches, made me nauseous

The dashboard, steering wheel, armrests, glove compartment

Stained sepia

Dry and gritty during winter

The nicotine tacky during the summer

The windshield hazy

After supper the blue clouds of smoke

Hung like sand bars in a wide expanse of the Ohio

Beneath the rafters

Until my mother drove him out of the house

Like she had driven him out of their bed many years before

He built a fly-tying room in the corner of the butter-yellow two car garage

That never saw a car in the years we lived there

Hung sections of drywall

Bright heads of electro-galvanized steel nails

Winking in the dimness

At the back of the garage, behind the chest freezer

The room tidy but cramped

Fastened at the front of a small desk

A vise

The bullet-shaped nose cleft with a dark seam

And ringed with a textured collar

A magnifying glass fastened with a c-clamp on an adjacent side

Its lens as thick as his favorite ashtray

The metal joints of the arms like the bony struts of a prehistoric bird’s wings

Ready to fold up or spread out

Stacked on a long table and underneath

Cardboard filing boxes labeled with black felt tip marker

And filled with plastic baggies of feathers

Sometimes whole wings

The desiccated tendons rough beneath the fluffy down

In this room

Like his herringbone velour wingchair

Like his C programming language

Like his after dinner diabetic fugue state

Like drifting in his innertube and milk chocolate brown waders

On the White River’s meanders

His pale, waxy nerve-damaged legs tingly, as effervescent

As 4th of July sparklers below his knees

In all these places

My father was a king, only whores

Truly understood my father

The cold shriveled flesh of manhood

Useless between his legs

Blood vessels collapsed after years of sugar

Rushing through his veins

My father was profligate, sired a thousand

Illegitimate offspring

All of who laid claim to my father’s kingdom

Tried to supplant my father’s only son in his affections

But to no avail

My father doted on my mother, an aristocrat

A prude looking over her reading glasses in disbelief when he undressed

Without turning off the lights

Because he was a rustic, a simpleton

Because she knew

He could just as easily have a plastic spoon in his mouth

And a shit-eating grin

Talking about full shares and eating pussy onboard a container ship

Or be the jaded and bearded

(Beared, thus melancholy)

Captain of the same container ship

Harshly demanding “Got that?! Got that?!”

Rhetorically of his subordinates

Seated around the table in the mess area

His angry questions like the squawks of a metallic bird of prey

Circling high above in a blue cloudless sky

Stark cries of outrage over some imagined slight to his infinitely practical and democratic point-of-view

Still echoing within the canyon walls of my present desolation

Every time my mother looked at my father she knew

My father could just as easily

Be holding her

If not her entire family


While her feckless husband went to withdraw the ransom

My father in the end not raping my mother, his hostage, but consensually

Sleeping with her only after he confided

How hard it was being a brother

How sex is the furthest thing from your mind

But still you have to do what you have to do

The burden of expectations and so on

And my mother

A member of what used to be called the leisure class

Before the cultural revolution of the 1960s

Really felt his pain

And it was tender and real between them

Until the symbolic world of information and marketing

Desire and fear, insecurity and the weight of society’s judgment

Caught up with them

Ran them down like the furies

As they tried to escape aboard a stolen public transit bus

In the desert outside L.A.

Also known as west Kentucky

My father in his madness killing her

Only so he could resurface back east

Just to play golf at the country club on weekends

Until he lost all but a pincer of thumb and forefinger on his right hand

Because of squamous cell carcinoma

He hated doctors too much to let one look at and diagnose

The raisin head of tumor

Black and iridescent

Like an eruption at the summit of inflamed, rosy skin

Growing on top of the knuckle connecting pinky to fist

Finally falling out in the shower

The small pink crater continuing to leak and drool

But without any pain

So he just covered it with gauze and thin strips of surgical tape

Thought about the two remaining digits

He could still feel and use

The rest of his fingers

Like ripe fruit ready to drop

A nicotine orange-stained nipper

All that was left

At the end of an arm

Shriveled like the branch of tree

Suffering root rot

After the chemo got done with it

A tourniquet at his shoulder protecting his other, more vital organs

The bones of his forearm

Radius and ulna

Like the metal struts of his magnifying glass

Meatless and visible under skin

Like wet tissue

The crab-like claw

Held in his good left hand

Cradled like something delicate, precious

The fragility of which shamed, embarrassed him

Embarrassed by all of it he in fact was

The whole thing

That lead up to the grotesque caricature at the end

Of his scrawny, freckled arm

The arm itself

No longer the arm of a man of direct and unequivocal action

The arm of a man who “got on with it”

The down of ginger hairs

Common to someone who burns easily

Buoyant and blurring the autumnal palette of freckles the color of turning leaves

The points of his nicotine-stained pinch

Holding the shriveled crinkly roach of an unfiltered Camel cigarette

In a blue haze of smoke

Unruly brown hairs of tobacco

Spilling out the end

The cigarette paper hot, damp with his spit

Worried from the pressure of his drag and squeeze

The Sturm und Drang

Of his locomotive mind

Out of control

And taken for granted

By him and everyone around him

A given

What’s left of my father’s hand

What he left in me

Like the great movie villains

Hannibal Lecter

Cutting off his hand to save himself from the woman he loved

The bondage she promised him

At the same time leaving a chill trace of his hypnotically murderous grip

In us the audience

Darth Vader’s mechanical stump

Short circuiting and smoking, stray wires spilling out

Like frays of tobacco from the spit dampened end of one of my father’s unfiltered Camels

As we finally understand the dark side of the force

Its binary of master and apprentice

Fealty and betrayal

The Terminator’s right arm

It’s powerful network of hydraulic servomechanisms

Whining as it tries to free itself of the titanium alloy combat chassis endoskeleton

Getting flattened in a machine press

Only for the hand to become the relic from the future that sparks the technological revolution

That makes humanity’s war against the machines inevitable

Nosferatu’s long bony fingers as shadow

Stealing over the furrows of Nina’s plain white gown

To clasp her life essence in long, feral nails

Animating her nearly drained body

For a brief, seizure-like moment

Before she collapses back onto the bed

The cold dead hands of the monsters of our collective imagination

The symbolic agents of their evil

Left in the minds of the audience

Like so many ghostly moorings

As hawser lines drift away

And get drawn up through catholes

The last desperate holds on our demons slipping from view

So the archetypes of their villainous ships might roam free in our subconscious

Transporting their awful, fascinating freight

Of primal fear and anxiety

The ethereal residue of their malevolent grips

A clammy protoplasm

Inside us as we exit the theatre

Telling ourselves over and over

It was just a movie

My father’s hand he left inside me

Mark Parsons' poems have been recently published or are forthcoming in Dreich, Peach, Piker Press, The Crank, and elsewhere. He lives in Tokyo, Japan.