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Smiling Back from the Afterlife, and: Listening to the Paint

From: Prairie Schooner
Volume 86, Number 3, Fall 2012
pp. 122-124 | 10.1353/psg.2012.0108

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Smiling Back from the Afterlife, and: Listening to the Paint

Smiling Back from the Afterlife

I meet my father for breakfast in some life after Alzheimer’s. He smiles: Are you stillmy daughter? The first sick joke from the afterlife begins on the phone. I regret that I am. His skull [End Page 122]

knobbed yellow and blue, bruised from an unremembered mishap. I imagine his face the color of a car’s undercarriage, the sun from his ocean view window catching the green mica flecks in his eyes. His thoughts float on the surface, torn out of context. He’s dying, he says: ninety-two and a ragpile wreck.

He throws down the paper. Still all assholes! he proclaims and asks the word for forgetfulness. I remind him it’s crs syndrome: Can’t Remember Shit. His favorite joke lives on in my memory. Everything between us lives in me, so when I leave him

in his black leather chair, I feel his confusion pelting my back. Do I know you? Your name is Rachel, right? Where’s that woman? She’s been gone for days. The phone catches his frown, then smile in its black brick, photo grim as a toe tag. Still your daughter, I say from the airport.

Now I’m on a plane and as far as he’s concerned, I might as well be in the afterlife. But I’m just mulching him over, planting him in memory, watering the past with answers thin as spring rain, sure that he’ll spring up in some life after this minute, irrepressible, deep-rooted as a weed. [End Page 123]

Listening to the Paint

In the exhibit I recognized my father’s feathered dashes, the brush strokes I watched him apply to seascapes and portraits, forearm scrubbing tint on canvas, bristles flicking the length of long, silent Saturday afternoons. How the room filled with his concentrated mind. How many times Monet must have moved his brush. You can see it in the flurry of colored welts, one paint lump embedded with a single hair. How many times he loaded the brush, swiped on those parallel lines. Strokes now fossilized in the exhibition room’s angled-down lights.

I have an idea how long that dry rhythm held because as I waited for my father to speak I counted the falling dust motes. The silence art must bear. I shifted from foot to foot. Now I shift memory’s tenses and wish my keys swashed soft as brushes, clinked like his brushes stirring turpentine in a jar to lisp on the next vista. Today my father stands silent before his easel, as if listening to the paint. He can’t remember how to mix the colors. His mind’s layers have been rubbed off with the palette knife of a painter who keeps changing the composition. I no longer begrudge that hoarded time, or the gruffness when he pushed me out of his studio. Now his time dries out, darkening on the canvas. [End Page 124]

Rachel Dacus

Rachel Dacus’s three collections of poetry are Earth Lessons, Femme au chapeau, and Another Circle of Delight. Her fourth collection, Gods of Water and Air (Kitsune Books), is forthcoming. Her poems, stories, essays, reviews, and interviews have appeared in Atlanta Review, Boulevard, Many Mountains Moving, Rattapallax, and other journals. She lives in Walnut Creek, California, and works as a grant writer and fundraising consultant.

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