On Fathers

They scratch their nose. They pick their ears. They shed their skin. Some come with warnings.

They scratch their nose. They pick their ears. They shed their skin. Some are dirty and some clean. Some come with warnings. Some carry a great mystery. Some stripped, some bloated. At night, without the light, the dust motes disappear.

‘...my father...on the one hand I see him as I saw him at that time...unpredictable and frightening; on the other hand, I see him as a peer through whose life time is blowing...sweeping large chunks of meaning’... -Karl Ove Knausgård, Min kamp 1

First of all, there’s two. One, in Belfast, a big-hearted alcoholic, before his accident, a gardener. And also his father and his father’s father father father. This is my biological. His wife died two days ago. She kept shit together, in the smoke-filled house, carpeted, overheated, John Wayne on the television, the Alamo. I met her twice. The first time ruddy and jolly, and the second, skin and bones. At the parades only a few sips of vodka. Weary in bed. And now, shortly after Christmas, gone. The funeral, in 3 days, on Wednesday. I have her father’s hat, WWI, given to her father by his father. I still need to wash it. I’m supposed to call. I feel sticky. I’ve called and left messages, voice and text. I have to work up to it. I feel guilty.

My father, aged 20, and me, on a blue bouncy ball, with the handles. Dressed in hippy clothing. Happy. It doesn’t matter if I remember. I have the feeling. Love. I ran through it. The bull is coming. The bull is coming, they said. Watch the nets. Where are we. My biological left letters. My mum did not show me. She wanted me to grew up new, without the burdens. Years later, I got them. A small pile. A few letters. He wanted to know me.

Diaspora aspirations forever shifting. Please circulate the air. What are you talking about. The brain. We’ve externalized it. It’s very messy. To get inside the mind. Is that the story. There are so many minds and so little time. Is that the story. My inkwell runs dry, but not really.

My biological disappeared in 1980, 25 years later, a reunion, in Belfast. We spotted each other at the train station. Same shaved head, beard, glasses, eyes. Also, the same toes. Two of his removed, an infection. Two of mine, then and now, hurting. It could be worse. The second reunion, the parades and bonfires and three-day drunken bender. Zombie on the stereo. It wrecked me. We walked around the Shankill and I puked into the gardens. No food. Liquid diet. Finally, at midnight, each day, a kebab. I couldn’t stomach them. My father fed them to his plants, above the sink. It’s good for them, he said. At 2AM, the nipple twists on the estate, a drinking club for Liverpool supporters. No one there. Do you like Johnny Cash. We couldn’t get Johnny Cash on the jukebox. It ate the money. 12 lagers and mini bottles, white wine. Back down the Shankill, are you collecting money for the burned-out house, do you have a light. Holding up my father against the crumbling wall. The stares. Another Guinness. A few kebab bites. The leftovers for the plants. I slept squirmy, in the small room, with an itchy blanket.

I am not Jesus. I like to tackle the person that tackled me. When I see a father with a child on his shoulder, it hits deep. When I see a father hugging their offspring, I bury it. Sitting still. Watching it. Non-judging. No one can find the original recipe. My fathers, absent, soften me. My fathers, absent, harden me. It went away. Is it coming back. Who knows. I am not a sappy story. I have a bad toe. I have a bad knee. I am tracing my ancestry. I come from the ground. Pricked and scabbed over. Feeling empty, but not the right kind. Dulling the senses, but not the right kind. Moving slower more aware, but not the right kind. I’m still here. One way or another. Trying to stay invisible. Reading over my head, trying to get clever to escape my fate. Did I have one? I stuck myself to it. The books. Finding yourself. No, losing yourself. The erasing. Also, survival. A way of being. Yes please.

There are many bends in the river. The Thames rolls its tongue against the crumbling gray bricks. The Thames holds its silt. The silt preserves the artefacts. To become silted is to: become blocked, become choked, become clogged, fill up (with silt), become filled, become damned. Unlatching the gate. Or climbing over. You might get away with a different coloured door. But mostly not. You shouldn’t feel too special. Just lucky. You climbed to the top of the government waiting list. You could get different coloured milk tops from the milkman. That could make you feel special.

My step father grew up in Warrington, he joined the British Army. A way out. Northern Ireland. He married my mother. In Bletchley, we went to the swimming pool. Hot chocolate, in the plastic cup, from the machine. I’ll give you a pound if you go down the slide he said. In London, in the homeless hostel, a sip from his beer. Play Your Cards Right on the telly. Twisting his moustache and flexing his biceps, playing Mormon hypnotism, on Mondays, in Milton Keynes. In America, wilderness survival. Black powder rifles and shotguns. Then, snowed in. In the sleeping bag, hypothermia. Awkward bonding. I do not know how to hammer. When I worked construction, I could not find the stud. I am not a man. I am not a woman. Yet here we are. Father and son. The many failures and expectations. Unconditional. The confusions. My step father, on top of me, a few punches, his heart on my heart, beating too fast. I didn’t want him to die.

Everything gets recycled. A banshee cries like a cat in heat. There is nothing you can do about the Banshee. The Banshee will come when it comes. There is no use waiting. It is better to admit the Banshee exists and then forget about it. You could send out all the NOT Banshee energy you want. The Banshee will still come. The Banshee can steal some of your life force. Sometimes for a long time. Sometimes a short time. Sometimes forever. If it is forever you are called the walking dead.

After the divorce and the death of his first born biological, my step father got a tummy tuck in Mexico and a motorcycle. Left the Mormons. Drove to South Dakota, in the middle of winter, with his ancient ancestors, to protest the Dakota pipeline. Now off the grid, stealing eggs from the farmer, in Utah, mostly high. Sleeping in his car, homeless, odd jobs here and there, he has joined a smaller group, left leaning. They want to change the world. It keeps changing. We can agree, more now, than then.

Do you remember when you wanted what you currently have. When time begins to pick up speed, the days grow shorter. I wake up in the morning. I hold my breath. Late afternoon I remember to breathe. To keep the game in motion. Trying to scrape off the layers to find something shiny or rusted underneath. Probably mostly rusty. But there might be some shiny bits too. Try to breathe, again, more easily. When you relax you can lean into it. Painted faces and spooky howling. Primal yelps. The mighty dust balls. It was only temporary. Bouncing back means moving forward. Long long ago, I owned a rubbish bin on wheels and I wheeled it to the curb. I am not too big to fail. Paradise is very fickle.