Washing the Car with My Father

It is the twilight blue Chevrolet,
four doors with no power but the engine,
whitewall tires, no padding on the dashboard,
the car I drive on dates, park on dark lanes
to ask for a kiss, now my hand goes along
the fender, wiping every spot, the suds
in the bucket, my father standing at the gate,
poor and proud, tall and stout, a wise man,

a man troubled by a son gone missing
in the head, drag racing his only car
at night, traveling with hoodlums to leave
the books for street life, naming mentors
the men who pack guns and knives, a son
gone missing from all the biblical truth,
ten talents, prophecies, burning bushes,
dirty cars washed on Saturday morning.

He tells me not to miss a spot, to open
the hood when I'm done so he can check
the oil, the vital thing like blood, blood
of kinship, blood spilled in the streets 
of Baltimore, blood oozing from the soul
of a son walking prodigal paths leading
to gutters. Years later I tell him the stories
of what his brother-in-law did to me, and

he wipes a tear from the corner of his eye,
wraps it in a white handkerchief for church,
walks up the stairs with the aluminum
crutch to scream at the feet of black Jesus
and in these brittle years of his old age we
grow deeper, talk way after midnight,
peeping over the rail of his hospital bed
as we wash the twilight blue Chevrolet.

Afaa Michael Weaver, "Washing the Car with My Father" from The Government of Nature. Copyright © 2013 by Afaa Michael Weaver.  Reprinted by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.
Source: The Government of Nature (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013)
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