To Somebody's Father
A block away and still I notice your tousled hair,
rumpled overcoat too small to button, eyes riveted
on me. Seven decades of training chill the sweat
off my body and yet I continue jogging toward you,
a compass needle drawn to the magnetic meridian.
But imaginary you are not and my head automatically
turns to avoid eye contact, the palm of my hand raised,
a shield as I pass. I say “no” before I can decipher
your words. I was raised to not speak to strangers.
The map in your hand stops me two strides past.
My dad purchased a new Road Atlas every year,
a book of dreams with Northwest pages dog-eared
and stained by hopeful hands. You tell me you are 86,
one year younger than dad when death erased all roads
to Oregon and Washington. Visiting from Illinois,
you are searching for your son without car or suitcase,
just a downtown map, useless in neighborhoods.
Beneath your coat, your Sunday-best, but missing
are dentures that belong with that smile.
Yes, your son knows you are coming. No,
he is at work. No, they took your phone away.
We walk south, a straight line in a conversation
that zigs and zags like backroads through the mountains.
From an inside pocket, you pull your license.
It bears the same address as your son and I ask
if it would be okay and we wait together
at the corner for the patrol car.
Before climbing into the back seat,
you turn and shake my hand. I suspect
you are tired, ready to go home,
like the day my dad placed the Atlas
on the shelf, rather than next to his chair.
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