More Than One Thing
The fun starts up again
every time Dad gets fired
for lying his way into a job.
Apparently this last time he was
a life insurance salesman, or maybe
an engineer? “They sprung me,”
Dad cheers, “I’m a free man,”
as if he’s happy.
He sweeps me off to the movies
sneaking me through side doors
into early shows where he jots down
cool lines in the dark to rehearse later.
He’s such a character.
Like his favorite: On The Waterfront
when Marlon Brando says:
“I coulda been something
I coulda been a contender
I coulda had class
But I’m just a bum
on a one-way ticket
Or this prisoner Gomez snarls
to the Birdman of Alcatraz:
“My ex-girlfriend from Brooklyn,
she had a voice like spoiled fruit
in a gutter, so I had to do her in
and I might do you, too, you
and your sissy birds, them canaries”
which Dad practices over and over
until you’d think he was
a New York convict.
Birdman’s our favorite bad guy.
Dad’s also crazy about the nice lady
who falls hard for him
even if he’s a terrible criminal
and a lifer in the pen.
But me, I love when Birdman
wangles a microscope to study blood,
the strange blood of his birds.
He stays away from those nasty cons
who creep around stabbing
each other in “The Yard.”
So guess what! Dad shows up
with my very own black-shiny scope
in a real wooden box
with neat glass slides like Doctors have
and a brass latch Mom flicks open
trying to appear impressed.
Later she talks low and rough in what
Dad calls her ‘Sheriff’s in town’ tone,
shooting off bullets:
“Here we are on the skids,
I’m dragging around to sales bins
for Wonder Bread and old lettuce
while you’re in the movies,
you expose our child to murderers,
and who knows what you hocked this time
for a microscope
so she can see blood”
because Dad pricks
his finger just for me.
Mom doesn’t get it: how Birdman softened
after he saved a broken sparrow’s life,
even got lovely canaries in his cell,
loved them so much, whole flocks sang
in their cages. Until they got sick.
Sure, the Birdman did kill
two men while he was young
but now he’s so tender
trying to heal his birds,
to find the secret illness
in their blood.
Dad whispers to Mom: “Honey, a loser
can become a lover. A man can be more
than one thing in his life.”
“Well, then, Tom, I guess one day
you’ll stop scamming everybody
and rescue us canaries.”
I’m at my microscope.
For hours and hours
I peer at the red molecules
alive, swirling, darkening
on the brightly lit glass.
Later when I wash off
and dry the slides
carefully with a soft towel
to place them in their slots
I feel very, very calm.
just like in prison
you can ignore
stuff happening around you
because you’re so busy
staring at fresh blood.
Louisa Loveridge Gallas is a counselor, long-time performer, and award-winning poet. Her 2010 book, The Wizard’s Dream: A Universal Winter’s Tale was recognized as a finalist for the 2011 Eric Hoffer Book Award. Louisa is the author of a collection of poems: Revelations on Longing Street (Earth Solutions Press) and a chapbook drawn from her performances with Milwaukee’s Earth Poets and Musicians, Low Life and Blood Relatives (Singing Road Press). "More Than One Thing" will be included in Gallas's new book, Rescue the Good Stuff (Garigueya Press), which she'll be reading from at Boswell Books on Sunday, November 11, at 3:00pm.