The weeks he worked 8 to 4 at the mill
Dad deked home by way of the Union Hall
to stand his shift a round in the lull before
supper, hustling across town to preside
over grace, doling out our daily bread
with a little glow on, a devil’s smile,
sneaking morsels from everyone’s meal
while our heads were turned, making off-colour
proposals to our mother that we were
too young to grasp in their prurient detail
though the gist came through in her dismissal:
saucy, fondly annoyed. They both seemed more
or less content with their lot, I’d have said,
if a mirrored smile is any measure.
Only once was he late through the door,
crutched in on a shift-mate’s staggered feet,
dumped and steadied in his waiting seat
where he bawled and listed hard to one side
while his sons stared and the half-eaten food
on our plates went cold. We were terrified
to see him undone—too shaken to speak,
unable to pry his eyes from the floor
even as Mom tried to coax him back
to sense, to all he asked of pleasure—
the kitchen’s fare, his young wife, fatherhood.
It seemed more than alcohol that crippled
the man, some omen of teeming failure,
and nothing he owned could staunch the flood
that rattled through and made him look a stranger,
flailing in front of his own flesh and blood.
It was a mother’s instinct to protect
her kids that placed us in a neighbour’s care
while she poured her husband into the car,
drove the blacktop to a gravel detour
ravelled through woods above Red Indian Lake
and they spent most of the evening there
watching the water’s strobing white-caps,
the sight like static on a radio’s wave,
almost a comfort, a murmuring salve
as they waited for the jag’s ragged kick
to break, for fatigue to shut off the taps.
There was no row, no needling the lapse,
as if my mother somehow understood
it was just the void peeking through a tear
in the day’s fabric that ailed her passenger,
the stone stare of all we stand to lose while
our heads are turned, that dark lull we disregard
though the gist beds in our hearts like a seed
and blooms on occasion in bald detail.
My brothers and I were already sound
by the time they idled back to town,
bewildered and spent, but undamaged.
Nothing was the same, except what mattered.
They had a life to be lived. They managed.