If I wanted cake, I would’ve ordered one,
he manages from the darkness of the hall,
a joke, even at this late hour.
He tumbles into a chair and inspects the scene—
us, our gifts, and what my mother’s baked,
the candles already lit-- the readiness is all--
then nods weak thanks as if
we were strangers come to his house
and soon his slow rising is to show us the door
and bid a polite goodbye.
But he pauses just past mid-arc, his face
a sad balloon bobbing helpless
above the cake, and when he finds
some breath to take, his wrinkles fade
and he becomes a cartoon-father:
red, distorted, and about to explode.
And as he does he blows the candles out
one for this birthday, one for the next,
expelling the long, tired breaths
so they deflect clear across the table
and air becomes flame, smoke, and finally
my mother’s smile. You see, she seems to say.
You see. Then as final curtain, all sing
as father performs the old disappearance,
his footsteps growing faint as the sounds
of the world when we’re weary and diving
straight toward sleep. My mother sighs and says,
You know, he’s never been sick
a day in his life. Only when we nod
does she begin to cut the cake. How expertly
she clears the knife, moving it
in and out a glass of water.
published 20 September 2016