Why I Killed My Step-Uncle In a Poem

From ages four to nine I was sexually abused by my step-uncle “Reggie” who was seven years older. He paid me in quarters and record albums, including Cheech and Chong’s Big Bambu and Toys in the Attic by Aerosmith. I had no idea that the abuse was wrong and blocked the memory until I turned 18.

When I told my father and stepmother about the abuse, they said, “Why didn’t you tell us then?” I was four. And of course, my stepmother accused me of trying to get her brother Reggie in trouble and cause problems between her and my father.
(as if they didn’t have enough on their own) Now I know this response is typical of a family in denial.

I’ve spent decades in therapy working through the after effects of the abuse, which includes mistrust of men and authority figures, fear of commitment, control issues, and a penchant for the melodramatic. I have left good relationships for terrible ones, including my last marriage. I don’t want to be alone but keep making that happen. The truth is, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.

In a poetry class years ago, I had a teacher who was a victim of childhood sexual abuse and not afraid to talk about it. He really understood the damage it causes to the human psyche. Through discussion, he helped me get my writing to a place where I could articulate what I wanted with the following poem. He read The Coin Collector and said, “You killed ‘im off, eh?” I didn’t mean to, but the poem took me there. And so be it.

The Coin Collector

You look tranquil in nickel-plate, uncle,
shark skin suit, black tie, eyeglasses.
They’ve done great work with your makeup,
brushed your hair back as you would
have worn for a wedding or wake. Your mother
offers kind words, says that as a child
you saved every penny you found. Your sister
talks about your thumbs, how they bent nearly
flat from the indent of so many coins.

I remember the Lincoln Cent collection book
you gave me, your taking me to antique shops
when I was thirteen, our private talks
of my high school lovers, all of which
you were dying to hear. These days, I carry
grief in my pockets like the coins you collected,
handled so often they’ve lost their brilliance.

I think of the young girl from a family
where no hands reached, how she welcomed
your affection year after year, afternoons
in your bedroom, a quarter a trip, your arms
linked through her legs, her fingers
tugging your blond hair, the pleasant ache
she felt between her legs then—and now—
when she hears them say your name, runs
her finger along the ribbed edge of a quarter,
sees the coffin close over your face.


Happy Anniversary–Suede: A Collection of Poetry

Nearly two years ago, my beloved father (and best friend) passed away from a severe lung infection. Had he not contracted TB from an employee in his early fifties, he might not be dead. This employee did not divulge her disease while she worked for him. He found out later. And my father’s TB stayed dormant for years. When it finally blew up, he almost died (but that’s another blog post). His entire life he’d battled asthma, and he used to joke, “These lungs are going to be the death of me.” It’s a shame that the careless act of an employee may have caused his death. Because of the scarring on his lungs caused by the TB, doctors said he could not survive the surgery needed to cure his lung infection. But I digress.

The book Suede: A Collection of Poetry is dedicated to my father because his death prompted me to dig out fifteen years’ worth of poems and finish the book. My older brother Tony, my father’s namesake, was killed in a motorcycle accident when I was eighteen. He is the subject of several poems. Loss has defined much of my life. And while many of the poems in Suede include loss, some talk about childhood, love, lust and sex, family, and some even discuss abuse. I write in simple, image-driven language, because that’s what I know. My father, with his high school education, read all my poetry and understood my poems. They are not lofty. I call myself a “blue-collar” poet. I published Suede for my father and my brother. Perhaps you or someone you know might like it. http://bit.ly/WE66YU

Birthday Poem–The Week My Father Was Dying

The Week My Father Was Dying

The week my father was dying, I fell in love with him—
again. When I was six, I’d proposed, scrawled
I love Daddy over the wood benches in the back
of his shoe repair shop, carved hearts into the
hard plastic of the sewing machine table. 

But the week my father was dying, shrunken frame
slouched in the fort of pillows and sheets on the giant
hospital bed in his living room, oxygen tank in the corner,
his black hair was combed straight, almond-shaped
eyes wide as a child’s, toothy smile yellow and straight.

I stood in the kitchen scooping chocolate ice cream
into a bowl, covered the mound in crushed pineapple.
I felt him staring, so looked over and waved. Up
to his neck in blankets, it took him forever to lift
his big old hand from beneath the fort to wave back. 

I have his hands, and feet. It’s enough to have his wiry
hair, scratchy voice, flat Italian nose, and stubborn streak—
but why the chimp-like hands and feet with every
toe the same size? I want to pluck them off with
the pincer pliers he used to rip the soles off shoes.

He once told me, “You couldn’t be more like me if you tried.”
I drink to excess, choose damaged lovers, live 3000 miles
away from family. But the week my father was dying, I sat
with him, said, Everything good about me came from you.

You’re my best friend, I said, and I love you.
Thank you, he said. Some kids don’t feel that way about their dads.
I laughed out loud, rested my arms around the declining
slopes of his shoulders. He felt so small.