When he was out to sea, my dad
sent coins to me from every port,
stuck at the bottom of his thin blue letters,
the whirls of his fingertips preserved
in the tape. I’d smell the paper hard
to find his bristly scent.
When he was young, he stole bread
and cigarettes, watermelon and eggs.
He picked up coal along the railroad tracks
and wore whatever someone gave him
to cover his scabs. He found an orange
one Christmas and ate it like an apple,
skin and all. It was the most magical food
he had ever held on his tongue.
When he was sick, my dad was
crazy as a loon, one screw loose,
taking direction from TV and
writing nonsense on the bills.
There is a spook talking nonstop
in my head, he’d say. We wouldn’t
let on to the neighbors, even when he
burned a mattress in the yard
for reasons we could not explain.
The USS Ruddy, my dad's ship, a fleet minesweeper.