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Mark Fogarty

Mr. Otis’ Tribune

I remember now how my ex and I took her father for ice cream at a rundown stand and how she insisted she knew what kind he wanted but got it wrong and he never said a word. (Until later.)

Mr. Otis was a sweet man and I loved him. I never knew anyone else who bought a car when he was 95. When I asked him why he bought the new car, he said it was a better deal than leasing! He had been buying Fords for 75 years, was one of the first African-Americans to ever buy a car in the rural county of Mississippi he came from.

Even at his great age (he died a day short of his 98th birthday) his mind was sharp and he could be drawn out easily about things that happened long ago. The oldest memory he had was of himself and other children swinging off a tree branch into a river. Sweet life! And he would talk about his mother, a fullblood Mississippi Cherokee, and remember she had long straight hair down to her waist.

Mr. Otis kept three shotguns in his bedroom closet. One of them had a gold trigger. He used them for hunting and self-defense. He stopped hunting on the Sabbath, though. One Sunday while out in the woods he came on a rattlesnake that he almost stepped on. He said it was the Lord’s way of telling him not to hunt on the Sabbath any more.

Mr. Otis loved children. He raised two families, twelve children, dozens of grandchildren. His grandchildren had grandchildren of their own. He was a Pied Piper of children. When he stepped out of his house neighborhood kids would appear and flock around him. When he got into his truck they would pile in for the ride. You’d look back and there would be a row of little heads in the back seat.

I brought his granddaughter down to visit him. He hadn’t seen her in at least five years. Old men forget to hide their emotions, and Mr. Otis pulled out his handkerchief to wipe his eyes when he saw how grown up and beautiful she was.

I know he liked me. I made him laugh. There was a spooky church up the road said to be haunted and I told him we heard singing and stopped and went in but there was no one there! He found the idea of the spectral choir hilarious. One time we were riding up to Mississippi through a blizzard of trees and I asked him if anyone had ever counted how many there were. He thought the idea of a tree census was hilarious.

By the time he died my ex and I had split, but I wrote a eulogy for him anyway. My ex sometimes had trouble with words, she misheard “tribute” as “tribune” and always called it the tribune. Now I do too. I think of it as Mr. Otis’ Tribune, his own personal newspaper, a summary of his century on the planet.

I miss him quite a bit. My ex, not so much. All right, I miss her once in a while. I wish we could have gotten him the right ice cream.

WRITTEN IN A HOTEL ROOM IN ATLANTIC CITY
ABOVE THE WORLD-FAMOUS STEEL PIER

Don’t want to see the ocean
I crawled from an hour past
into the sun and the era of
wind, into the absence of
water that held me,
amniotic,
free of all tides except bliss,
ungravitied,
not blocked to
the harshness of
breathing.

Now I’m high above the famous
pier, straddling a one-trick pony,
waiting to dive back into the driving
weight of water:

Close your eyes
against the seeing
close your eyes and jump—

My father died
despite my poetry.
He was the ocean I rose from
and I am the absence of
water that holds me,
asthmatic,
to the harshness of
believing.

*

AGELESS

-for Kola Boof-

Born in no year, you are
Ageless, oblivious to time,
First woman and the last:

Nations can be fed
From your endless milk,
From breasts that match
The sun and moon.

Your fearless body has
The strength of generations.

Your soul transcends
The fiery storms of its surface.

You shame the men who cut
Your womanhood;
You glide to victory,
Not denied motherhood

Or the sensuous legacy
Your people hung for you,
A hammock anchored
By one flaming thigh, the sun,
And one tidal thigh, the moon.

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