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The Poet Visits Her Father-in-Law

By Joy Beshears Hagy

Scum on the handle of the refrigerator and a giant greasy handprint on the glass kitchen table. He has turned his cup upside down again and a pool of orange juice coagulates on the clear surface. He uses the same Styrofoam cup every day, never rinses it. Never throws it away. The knife is lying on the table, the same knife he uses to spread peanut butter, jelly and mayonnaise on his boiled eggs. He will use it for months unless you take it away, and never figure out why he has crapped all over the toilet and himself.

No pictures hang in the hallway, only black handprints marking his path. He never washes his hands or cuts his fingernails. Cheesy yellow grime glows beneath his nails. He refuses to take more than one bath a week, never changes his boxers or pajamas. A crusty brown ring circles the mouthpiece of the nebulizer. Twice a day he sits at the table and breathes in the misty air, coughs deep and brings up something alien; he spits it in the kitchen trashcan he keeps between his legs.

Swimming pools were his business. He smoked and drank, and smoked. Emphysema is drowning him, but he’s not sure if it came from smoking or because he is allergic to pine trees. “It’s from smoking,” I tell him. He coughs and I gag. The light behind him shines on his face, his profile a half moon.

He’s in the habit of humming when he breathes. Habit not necessity. When I hear that hum tightness clinches my jaw and pulls on my back. His oxygen tank buzzes and vibrates my teeth when I sit slack-jawed on the couch. He has no teeth. He smacks his food, smears it along his gums, and hums and hums. His hands shake the spoon, slapping it against the place mat.

The other day he taught me how to make his chorizo and eggs. He taught me to warm the flour tortillas on the burner of the stove, like they do in Texas. Then his humming turned into a song. His smacks and slapping spoon turned to drum beats and the sizzle of the pan became our tambourine.


 
Joy Beshears Hagy
lives on High Rock Lake in Lexington, NC with her husband, two dogs and a cat. Hagy holds a BA from Salem College, where she is the director of the Writing Center, and an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte. Her poetry has appeared in or is forthcoming from various journals and anthologies including Poet’s Canvas, THRIFT, Main Street Rag, Southern Gothic Online, R-KV-R-Y Quarterly, In the Yard: A Poetry Anthology, Mountain Time and Caesura. Her poem, “Rapture” was chosen by Kathryn Stripling Byer as Honorable Mention in the 2006 NC State Poetry Contest.

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photo by Dinty W. Moore