Alone in the barn for one week, my father sheds his skin whole. He props it up in a chair & gives it a notepad with mother's name written on every page. He smooths out its cheeks & opens its hands wide. Then he slips out the door & walks into the field. When he is far enough away he waves, Happy Valentine's Day.
I know my father best on the roof at night, while he waits for the alien spaceships. We lie on our backs & let the black country night graze our ears like bats. My mother will leave him again soon, & he will change forever. But right now he looks up with wet eyes & speaks quietly, like a brother in the top bunk after the lights go out. He loves Star Trek. He loves Mars. He's sure we're not alone.
The circus comes to town with a sick elephant. It's very bad, the doctor says, listening with his stethoscope. Five men hold the legs & trunk while he cuts a crescent-shaped window into the gray balloon of its belly. That's strange, the doctor says. My father goes up to see. A moment later he has his whole left arm in the hole, & a moment after that he's all the way inside. What about the boy? The crowd yells at the elephant, who is already healed & running away.
MOST FAMOUS PROFESSIONAL MOURNER IN CHINA
For the funeral, I hire the most famous professional mourner in China. Her cries are so high at first that all the dogs in the countryside howl after her. Then she goes so low that the tadpoles at the bottom of the pond vibrate to my special sadness. She beats her breasts bloody for me, until I finally feel relief. The belly dancer, the fire breather, the man with scales all over his body, are all remarkable in their crafts. & when we march in rows down to the sea, I know with a glass-like certainty that everything will be fine from now on.
I was afraid of being small in my mother. My father was afraid of being small in my grandmother. His father & his father & men as far back as the sea have been afraid of this, & even the sea itself was afraid. Now I stand, dressed like a famous lumberjack, in my booth between the snake charmer & lions. The air is fresh. Soon they will harvest my lungs & make blankets for the poor.