My Daddy is a Cowboy

Man in the hat

My Daddy is the man in the hat.

When the neighborhood kids ask about my Mama being single, that is what I tell them, shuffling them into my closet where I have a movie poster of an old cowboy hidden, tacked up on the wall behind my gingham dress and the white frock I wore only once, at communion. The man in the poster is what my Mama would call “rugged,” with a dark moustache and a fedora shaded over his eyes.

“Why you got him in here?” Jimmy asks, sniffling. His nose is always runny and I make sure not to touch his hands or sleeves, because he doesn’t have any manners and wipes his snot on places where they shouldn’t be.

“Because Mama would cry if she saw him,” I say and elbow him over when he tries to paw at where Daddy has a small cleft, right on his chin. I tell Jimmy what I don’t tell the others – that Daddy was an outlaw, a wanted man, and that he’s on the run and he can’t send me letters or telegrams on account of the FBI.

Jimmy’s eyes grow large and wide, and he looks at the poster, and then at me, in a queer special way.

At school the next day, he pulls his baseball cap low over his brow in the cafeteria when we pass by each other during lunch. I give him a solemn nod, like he’s a cowboy saying “Howdy,” and I’m the schoolteacher who he’ll end up romancin’.

Home Front

Boy Plays Piano

A boy embraces the keys of a piano
And runs his fingers where another once played.
If he sits still, the instrument warms.
If he closes his eyes, he can smell tobacco.
Soon, he hears the full-bodied laugh
Which trembles through him like brontide
And sweeps him
To where his father might be.

Daddy’s Girl

Like the veil of a bride
Tender falls the night
Around your sleeping head.
The moon as your attendant
Watches with shy pride
While leaves tap on the window —
Harbingers of future courtiers.

Red Wagon

Old Wooden Wheel

The rusted red wagon
Anchored by granddad on the porch
Once roamed the seas
With little boys battling Midway
And in royal gold filigree
Pulled Ms. Queen the border collie
On bumpy London cobblestones
It cradled the sod for mom’s petunias
And spilled with cloying sweetness —
A childhood Garden of Babylon.

Night-Shift Dad

Father, my father
Was a man of shadows
Who woke in the day when I was away
And who never shared our evening time meals
While I dreamed, he slotted and sorted
While I explored, he was a boulder lying,
A hard form beneath the coverlet.
I never knew him
Until he was old and gray,
Lame and wanting so much
For someone to talk to.