Everyone Does Something Well
He stutters, reading aloud: Write
five paragraphs describing something you do well.
He rubs and rubs the pencil eraser across his stubbled chin.
His husky war-veteran’s shoulders hunched
over the blank page. Needs the entire hour
to carve out six lines of hieroglyphics, one scrawling
something concerning his tour of duty
as a helicopter mechanic. Okay, I say.
That’s a start.
He’s flat on his back beneath my car,
having run one tire up an icy snowbank,
clearance enough for him to worm under.
He’s opened a dented toolbox and set it nearby,
asking me to hand over the tools he calls for.
He wants a 19mm wrench. A cold, difficult wind
spits snow in my face. I can’t read
the tiny numbers etched in the battered steel.
No, he says quietly to the wrong tool.
He reaches, groping blindly.
Selects the right one.
I’m shuffling an awkward jitterbug to keep warm.
I’m watching his hands.
The old starter out, a new one installed
in about as much time as I’d need
to write my own five paragraphs. Maybe less.
She’s posed like a tabloid starlet, one foot
lifted to the running board of a lustrous black Pontiac,
lips spiced with a flirty smile, an outlaw Bonnie
stepping toward the edge of infamy
as Clyde exits the bank in a firestorm
with sacks of cash, and the couple dash
into the deliciously dangerous and romantic yonder.
Instead, she marries our father, a soldier
home from combat, settles into what must have seemed
a monotonous routine — diaper bags, spit rags, heaps
of laundry, floors to sweep, never ending
cycles of meals to concoct and sinks full of pots and pans.
Who’s that? my siblings and I ask, paging
through a moldering family album
of black and white scalloped-edge
box camera snapshots.
She’s just past teenage in the photo,
showing off for the lens. A puzzling contrast
to the woman we knew who stood back
and looked downcast when the flashbulb flashed.
Lowell Jaeger (Montana Poet Laureate 2017-2019) is author of eight collection of poems, most recently Earth-blood & Star-shine (Shabda Press in 2016). He is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Montana Arts Council and winner of the Grolier Poetry Peace Prize. Most recently Jaeger was awarded the Montana Governor’s Humanities Award for his work in promoting thoughtful civic discourse.