James Lee – father’s finger

James Lee

father’s finger

father lost his finger in ’66
loading firewood with his bare hands
he caught it
in the rust of the pick-up truck
as the driver lifted his foot from the clutch
so the skin was pulled from bone
before he could say, “stop.”

the doctor severed the rest
gave him a butter salve
to heal the stump
and that was ’66,

in ’71 I fell
from my mother womb,
he tried to catch me
but I fell through
the hole in his hand,
but I’m still slipping
on the salve.

as a kid
I could find him in a crowd
by looking for what wasn’t there
that gaping fissure,
the fist that smiled
like a toothless bum,
thick thumb tongue peaking through

he said that finger still itched
long after ’66
a phantom hangnail harassing him
from beyond the grave
his heart ticktocking away the time
between birth and death
blood slipping through the emptiness
in his fist
regretting how his son snuck between his bones
and how the money leaked from his hand
to the tavern till

now the beer belly bends his back
until he can’t breathe anymore
hand spread unnaturally wide on the bedspread,
numb thumb rubbing the stump,
the useless nub,
an incomplete tree pruned by fate.

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