The Other Grandfather

by Catherine Ferguson

He stole a pie and ate it with his fingers behind a brick building.
The dock and the mice made him want ice cold water.
He was drawn to urban transportation, rails, wheels, engines.
Anything but memory.

He did not like to sit politely at the supper table.
He disliked thinking about the wife he had left behind.
The son and daughter.
If he thought of her he spat.
If he saw a full waistband he wanted to vomit.
He did not want homemade.
There was so much to darken.

There was a wall, a field, a combine, and a loader.
His cheekbones jutted into the smokestacks,
ink wells, factories.

The little boy wrote to him.
Send me strawbarys.
Send me your wing, your walet, send me a sign, a stamp,
the histry of the First World War.
My boy can’t spell.
He had nothing to give but oblivion.
Don’t ask me for anything he wanted to answer.
Don’t remind me of the woman who wore a white apron
and pulled her hair up in a bun,
whose smile was once full.
Don’t remind me of a pillow for her head and one for mine,
or the second birth, a girl with high cheekbones.

At night in some hotel he sketched water systems.
He diagramed four drinking wells, bomb shelters, artillery conveyances.
He sketched stairs, a coal furnace.
He did not want to know the lady who lived
down the end of the hallway and sometimes smiled at him.
He would not write back to the boy who stood in the rain
on Pennsylvania Avenue and let it fill up his mouth.
He would not buy that card with a rabbit sitting in soft grass
for the little daughter he would never see.
He would keep the sound of the railroad in his ears,
the spinning coils of turbines and spark plugs in his eyes,
he would die before they found him and made him take off his hat.