Fear of Long Words

By Peter Verbica

Long after mother had said
“goodbye” to her piano,

Dad — dead drunk,
broke her mandolin.

In tears,
she picked it up
off the kitchen floor,

its neck broken
and held by the strings

like a limp
dinner chicken.

I hated hating him.

When he died
I cried,

That monster:

even the whiskey
I guzzled

couldn’t keep him
from trying

to be reborn
inside me.

I’m almost well now.

In the garden
you see me through a window
and wave.

I’m under a big straw hat
and you think I’m digging holes
for tulips.

But, like a gopher,
I’m checking for softness
in the ground,

a final resting place
to bury the memory of
his grinning skull:

the last goodbye I got
when I found him,

staring at
a black and white test pattern
on the Zenith TV.

Last night,
you asked me what I was most
afraid of…

I lied and said it was
a fear of big words.

you asked,
sounding out every vowel.

That’s right,
‘only Hemingway for me,’
you fuck-face,
I thought to myself,

smiling like a China doll
and nodding mechanically.

Headshot of Peter Coe Verbica

Peter Coe Verbica grew up on a commercial cattle ranch in Northern California. He obtained a BA and JD from Santa Clara University and an MS from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is married and has four daughters.

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