Oh father, oh music man
with a whistle instead of a coin
to toss on your walks,
keep these things for us
until we're ready to come home:
our baby teeth, fragments of bone
that rattle in a domino box.
Tuck it in your pocket but please
don't gamble it away
the way you lost our
christening gowns in poker.
We had outgrown them, true,
but what other proof
did we have that all seven
of our outfits could be stacked
and shuffled like a deck
of cards. Keep the bottle cap
opener hanging by a string.
Wear it like a locket
and stay collared to our after-school
bliss when we found you
underneath a tree that scattered
glass fruit around your feet.
The boys lined them up
for death by slingshot,
and the girls giggled
when the bodies shattered.
Take good care of our drawings,
our crooked handwriting
exercises, the scribbles of our names,
and sew a suit with sailboats
on the sleeves, a coat with Qs
sliding down a wire, and pants
that celebrate our prepubescent
autographs. And in your shoe—
don't tell us which! let us guess!—
save the coin you told us
came from China. It had a hole
in the middle because the merchants
slid their change on chopsticks.
We pictured them on market
Sundays holding up their earnings
like a shish kabob. We know
you hid the coin because all seven
of us wanted it and so you
took it with you. Or so I claimed.
Can I be blamed, oh father, oh story
man, for wanting to possess
the single thing that couldn't be shared?
You saw me slide it out
the window of your wallet
while you napped and didn't
snap to attention to complain.
Of all your sons and daughters
it is I who wanted to escape the most,
to anywhere. I learned the desperate
alchemy of flowering a barren day
with song from you, oh master.
A minstrel needs his freedom.
And so you let me take it.