In 1955 the Detroit Red Wings took the Stanley Cup from the Montreal Canadians.
In 1957 the Detroit Lions embarrassed the Cleveland Browns, 59 to 14, to become     
NFL Champions. I turned eight in 1958, in Pleasant Ridge, Michigan; just a few     
miles from all this history.

Dad got a new rake that Fall. Its teeth were gloss green, lanky, superior to     
any defiant dead leaf I know. He tried peeling off the manufacturer's label     
wrapped loosely around the smooth handle. His struggle with that paper     
orchestrated a symphonic rattle starring all the rake's teeth haphazardly     
tapping discordant tinny notes on an invisible pie pan. It is a harmony every     
first time paper picking rake owner knows. I'd heard enough. I took the rake     
from him (rude, I know), impatient to try a better way. I easily slid the paper     
up and off the shaft--too proud I found a quicker fix. That was a mistake! His     
tired hazel eyes narrowed into slits, black with resentment, as if Id annoyed a     
venomous snake by one-upping him with my eagerness to please. "A genius!" he     
growled through a clenched barricade of teeth. "Now rake the leaves. You'll get     
a dime." I'd heard that other kids got quarters for smaller yards. I knew best     
not to say a word. I was a timid boy in 1958, but a good student too. This     
lesson taught me one should not expect to escape wound free when crossing my     
father's path. I silently resented him with a dollar's worth of anger and a     
quarter's worth of greed. I scratched maliciously at the ground with gnashing,     
angry strokes; merciless to both leaf and rake.

Dad scaled an extension ladder he'd borrowed and leaned against the backyard     
oak. His task was to cut off a low slung branch that clawed at the master     
bedroom window when the wind kicked up some nights. The noise kept him awake on     
those rare occasions he expected to sleep well. He grew up a hungry orphan in     
the Great Depression. That, the Army Draft in 1942, and three campaign battle     
stars from the Pacific fighting in World War II taught him his life will be     
forever punctuated by an infrequent good night's sleep. He would not allow a     
tree to change what he could not.

He hacked away with a short cut carpenter's saw meant more for cutting     
two-by-fours than a knurly 80 year old tree limb. The branch cracked off too     
soon like a lightening strike unexpectedly close. I turned toward the sound     
quick enough to see dad and his branch thump the ground in unison as if they'd     
slapped an earthen base drum once. He lay back flat in communion with the soil     
that a moment before had nursed his sawed off victim yet, like a Christ     
performing an undocumented miracle, saw fit to some-what cushion my father's     
fall--just enough. Mourning its own loss, the grieving tree shed dead leaves,     
cloaking dad's stillness with a shroud of burnished tears. My anger flipped to     
fear as if I were a fledgling bird that lost its first feather in flight;     
events can manage emotions that fast.

I hovered over him, shaken, confused, unable to cry. This was my first     
encounter with not knowing what happens next. He stared upward, eyes open,     
glazed vacant, not yet lifeless--yet not alive, snubbing the silent weeping     
tree he briefly woke from drowsy dormancy, ignoring flashing snap shots of his     
past, traveling through the bright filigree of unknown, unnamed     
constellations some near death might see. What criteria tipped the scale of     
choice he live or die? What brought his eyes blank glare back to me? Me--the     
son that hated him just before with a child's harmless, as yet uncultivated     

Reborn, focused, his softened eyes glowed suddenly hard, fearless--assuring me.     
He knew he'd live, make the mortgage, see the Lions win another title game.     
"Get the neighbors!" he commanded. I thought at first the sleepy tree itself     
stood up and spoke. His strength just then haunts me even now. I've never had     
it! I've never seen it since--in anyone. The rake stayed where it lay. Weeks     
later I grabbed it to finish. It had rained since his fall. The teeth rusted     
some. They moaned laconic tunes poorly played on soggy leaves.

The Tigers are in 1st place. The Wings gave up the Cup in the last two minutes     
of the seventh game--at home--to a club called the Penguins? The Lions were 0     
and 16 last season--a record. I sometimes watch them play Thanksgiving Day     
games on TV so I don't have to help make the dinner. I live two-thousand miles     
from that oak tree in Pleasant Ridge.

Dad sold the house in 1961. I drive past it on rare visits home to see how     
history has done. Last time I looked, late Fall, another crop of dead leaves     
lay ready for the rake. The oak was a third taller than fifty years before. Dad     
was 85, his failing strength resisting age. Each time by I peer past the     
driveway gate from the street, roll to a stop and spot the ground that saved     
him when I was eight. That bit of earth is my monument no other's eyes knew     
father's eyes like mine.

Steve  lives, works and writes in Las Vegas.  His work has appeared in Lake Superior Review,
Caliope's Corner, Cornerstone, Kindred Spirit and Poets Haven. 

It molted from a thought to a poem over 25 years ago.  It survived, somehow.  I began working
with the poem recently, but failed to be as concise as I needed to be with the poetic word, especially when characterizing "Dad".   The story morphed into a flash fiction piece and seemed to sprout wings on sentences and paragraphs of prose. It took a few weeks for me to be content with the work. It said just what I wanted it to say. 

Foundling Review was the first to see it.  My daughter, an accomplished poet, and my wife are my trusted critics. They read my work first and make suggestions that are useful, and many times used. The ending has been the same since the first time I wrote it years ago.  "Dad" does exist, but who's "Dad" it is, is what makes this the abandoned cocoon of fiction. 


Copyright 2009