I remember glossy-brown countertops, dim lights, and cigarette smoke in the afternoon.
The smell of liquor, old men in tired flannels,
stretched suspenders, and gray hairs, huddled in a crowd at the booth.
hard peppermint candies tasting of stale mint and age
– a big pat on the back as I stumbled, carrying polished glasses.
That’s Hakim’s girl, they would say.
they would ruffle the little bowl of hair atop my head, laugh and tell me jokes,
the old ones adored me.
You, in your 6’2 frame and trim waistline
your face was always stern but you were beaming
my daughter is young but she will take over this business one day,
I heard you say, to your friends, at the bar on a slow Sunday night.
I remember you with your glass of beer by the sofa,
talking loudly with mother, sports dimly rumbling on the screen,
you muttered, over papers and tax forms spread over the coffee table at midnight
said go to sleep, saw my
my eyes tired from the servitude
but I always waited to see what you were doing, before heading to good night.
That September, the sky bloomed red with the fall
as the leaves shriveled, caught fire, and burned to a crisp on charred sidewalk
where “FUCK ARABS” was spray-painted on the alley where we took our shipments
and lines tightened against momma’s mouth, and her eyes
the black hair under her scarf slowly peppered with gray.
heavy stones like gunshots, hitting our windows,
dropping in dad’s kidneys, he coughed
the doctor said words but no one really heard until mom was screaming
we painted and repainted the alleyways with fresh paint.
That cold February night
we didn’t get a customer in until 6, a stranger in town – I was on shift
and they called my name, I stumbled, dropped the pitcher and it spilled, broke –
his hand – dad’s – struck like an arrow against my cheek, with a harsh word, I cried
as the stranger stumbled out, in alarm, didn’t understand
the dynamic between a father and a daughter and a family that couldn’t pay its bills
we both lost a job that day.
Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, when you were at the hospital
I sat alone at the counter, doing math homework
Someone bought me a drink, and then another,
my statistics calculations ruined, but I learned to write
essays with Miller and Stella Artois.
There’s a fund I put in your name
I know your marks are good
Yes, I was in the top of my class
I want you to use it to go to college
All I wanted was for you to be successful
You held my hand so tight I thought you’d never let go.
They shut the Tap Room before summer vacation
three weeks after you died, out of respect – it became an Applebee’s afterward
As mother and I packed up, heads down in defeat
to a school in New York 1000 miles away and winter is its own weeder class, not a season
Orientation, she put her scarf over me, said that she was proud but
saw her bow her head as she wept on the way back to the beaten-up Accord we couldn’t afford to replace.
A comparison between a prison on an island
and a college you don’t go to by choice:
an institution where you are bound by social convention and can not leave easily,
but one that you pay tuition for, and everyone looks happy except for you.
I scribble equations now, to whatever I can get my hands on, the top-shelf names they taught me, discarded. All drink good as gold.
My hall mates find me crazy, but I must be the best. To show off, show them,
the rich girls with their bobble earrings and thick boots – because
when they ask me where I came from, I know it is codeword for you don’t belong.
The older white boy with the blond hair and blue eyes in my class likes me,
I can feel him cling to every word
because I know the difference between a lager and a pilsner
What kind of men drink red liquor and what kind like Budweiser
and whether or not a group of people will be a problem when they walk in
and maybe because my father is dead and he thinks that is interesting.
He is pretentious. He takes me drinking.
Mix triple sec with cheap soda and underage drinking, the sad music he lets you pick. It is a recipe for him standing in my room, unfazed, we dance
our aggressions – his invasive words, questions – hands where I don’t want them – why are you so shy, prude? – you, an asshole, stop –
halfway through the tango it becomes a capoeira:
harsh words, he slaps, something, I fall – a spilled drink, broken glass, my head thudding against the dull of spinning floorboards, cold and musky, I fade out
they break ground. Set up lumber, a foundation, crown moulding
watch as a building unfolds upward from the dirt ground.
A shrieking young girl plods her feet rapid-fire across the barren room
through ashen concrete floors, layered with dust, half covered by new boards, doors still just slabs of wood, unpainted.
A passerby glances at a handwritten sign, labeled, “opening soon” through a paint-smeared window – next to a sign “Public hearing for license to sell alcohol in the state of Oklahoma” – through the glass, you see
a girl running to her father’s arms, he crouches, then raises her up.