Winter After the Strike

You believe,
if you cast wide enough

your net of want and will, something meaningful
will respond. Perhaps we are the response—

each a cresting echo hesitating, vibrant with the moment
before rippling back.

But you’re steadfast as Odysseus strapped to the mast, as you were
in ’81 when Reagan ordered you back to work. You were President

of the union local you steered with your working-man’s voice,
the voice that ground the Ptolemaic ballet of air traffic to
a temporary stop.

You used it to refuse to cross the picket line I walked
with you outside Newark International.

I miss sitting beside you at the console when you worked
graveyard shift in the tower. Mom and I visited with our
sleeping bags.

I could see the dark Turnpike for miles, the somber
office buildings winking insomniac cells, the tarmac

spread before us like a picnic blanket and you, like a jade Buddha
suffused in the glow of that radial EKG.

You’d push the microphone in front of me, nod, and let me
give the word.
I called all my stars home, trajectories bent on the weight
of my voice.

You say you miss tracking those leviathans, each one snagged
on the barb
of your liturgy. I, too, get reeled in by the hard, now rusty music
of your pipes.

I follow it back to the day of your accident in the story you tell:
you were sixteen, hurdling the railings dividing row-house porches

from one end of Widener Place to the other to impress Mom.
I imagine the way you cleared each one like a leaf bobbing
on water, catching

the penultimate, the rubber toe of your Chuck Taylors kissed
by the rail, upsetting your rhythm and you roiled in the air

arms outstretched, stumbling toward the last like one hell-bent
or sick to the stomach. The way you landed, on your throat,
the rail

could have taken your head clean off. Since then, your voice issues
like some wartime communiqué: a ragged, typewritten dispatch

which you swallow with your smoker’s cough black as a tire
spinning in the snow. That winter after the strike,

we were so poor you sold everything but the house. Tell me, Dad,
when you’d stand at the door calling me in for the night,

could you hear me speaking to snowflakes falling beneath
the lamppost?
Could you hear me out there, imitating you imitating prayer?

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