88 Candles & a Vacant Chair

by Janet I. Buck


Six days before his birthday feast,
my father died. The pain was worse
than barefoot walks on broken glass
pressing slivers into flesh.
I saw him just the day before
and should have listened to my eyes
that saw his rib bones sticking out
like pencils ‘cross his curving back.
Legs as thin as Ostrich sticks,
hanging from the rest of him,
not strong enough to even
help him shift in bed.

When the awful phone call came,
I dissolved like Airborne
dropped inside a dirty coffee cup.
Raced to grab a single moment at his side,
touch his hand, talk to him,
unaware he wouldn’t speak.
Death put me in the zero zone,
where nothing is real, but everything’s wrong.
I loved him so, I was always a kite
in living color, circling an open sky
whenever I saw his face in a room.

I’d planned his party months ahead,
somehow knew that time
was speeding up the clock.
I knew he’d have a catheter bag,
an oxygen tank on rolling wheels
he’d drag into the dining room.
My selfishness pressed on and on,
like bullies in a schoolyard.
I bought fresh crab, froze it its plastic tub,
set the table so damn early
plates and glasses gathered dust.

We all agreed to have his birthday anyway,
to play the cards of memories, the funny stuff
that never came into our heads.
I made four angel food cakes from scratch,
served the one that puffed up almost perfectly
and didn’t have a bunch of cracks,
since I was shells of broken eggs.
All the food we ate that night
tasted like a cardboard box.
88 candles on his cake, a raspberry sauce
that smelled of blood—I got so drunk
I could have burned the house to the ground,
but our home was already gone.

Rapunzel stewing in the tower,
there were no ropes to rescue me.
I cut my braids, then cropped my hair
since he was bald—took homes sweaters
he had worn, full of threads that moths
had eaten in the dark—to wear
when nights were long and cold.
Tears are still the only milk
I pour on morning cereal.

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2 thoughts on “88 Candles & a Vacant Chair

    1. Thank you for taking the time to reply. Your wisdom is perfectly targeted, as if you’ve experienced that kind of pain. I hope to God I’m mistaken here.

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