Memory / Practice
I remember you falling asleep in the rocking chair beside the upright piano in the living room most nights when I practiced. I remember you waking up when I would quietly close the cover to the keyboard to ask me if I finished everything. I remember how much you loved listening to me play, how you cried at the retirement home when I played a recital for the old people and the sick people, how I was embarrassed at your tears and your heart overfull with emotion, how I didn’t know exactly what it was then, but I could feel something the same as you did. How it overwhelms me now, my own feelings. How much I am like your heart. I remember you singing the hymns during Catholic mass when we were young, how our family took up almost a whole pew. I remember how loud your voice was singing out, how it wasn’t really a beautiful voice but it wasn’t bad either. Mostly I remember how much you didn’t seem to care, because you loved it so much and believed in something. I remember being a little embarrassed then, too, at how your voice carried over everyone else’s. I would give everything I have to hear your voice now, and to forgive my own childish embarrassment. I remember your hands. One hand that was permanently curled into a half fist because a couple of fingers were sewn back on after an accident at work. How they smelled like grease or oil from cars and buses and tools. I remember how you always worked so hard at everything, how you were never not working, how your everyday clothes were Dickies work pants and flannel shirts tucked into your pants and steel toed boots with cord-like laces that my sister and I would unwind to pull off those boots and give you foot massages. I remember how sensitive your feet were to our touch, even though I thought everything about you was hard and tough and impenetrable. I remember when you cried at the end of sidewalk at the big house after you and mom had a fight and I thought you would get divorced. I remember you drinking whiskey with your friends at the Knights of Columbus on Friday nights while my girlfriends and I ran around in the game room and harassed you occasionally for quarters or sodas. I remember you called us Queens 1, 2, and 3. I remember you scared us sometimes with your voice and your hands. I remember you laughing. Everything loud and big in that voice, happy and angry and the whole spectrum, everything in between. I remember you playing with fire, stoking hot coals, hair burned at the top of your forehead, making flowers and animals out of iron railroad spikes. I remember you knew how to do everything, and then you found your art, too. I remember you rowing the john boat down the muddy creek. I remember you telling us wild and terrifying ghost stories, making foil dinners at the log cabin in the woods, teaching us to shoot a rifle, teaching us to say a prayer. I remember your sadness when I told you I wanted to quit piano. I remember your black Ford truck, how it would backfire when we would ride in the back, tumbling around onto each other like logs, how you would take a too-fast turn on purpose. I remember your garden, the rich tomatoes, the symmetrical rows of beans and cabbage and cucumbers slung low down by the creek. I remember you were always hungry for more. More dinner, more praise, more money, more love, more time. How I understand it now, that hunger. I remember you. I remember you. I remember.
Sarah McCall is a poet and teacher who lives in Richmond, VA with her husband and two dogs. She holds an MFA from Old Dominion University. Find her at https://www.sarahmccall.net/