August evenings into my fifth summer

I fetched my father

from the blue saloon leaving

Mother brooding by the screen.

Running down the block in stutter

steps, I never knew until

my eyes could pierce

the door ajar the stale breath

of shadows soaked in smoke

long enough to see

if his face was fallen.

Good nights were when he could walk.

He would spin off wondrous tales.

My heart fairly bounced between us

up the hill to home refreshed.

Of the bad ones when he stumbled

or was cut across the lip

or cursed loudly at the neighbors,

I remember nothing.

In later years my father fully healed.

The mend for me was less complete.

Drinking first at twenty-five

and even now at fifty

I cannot pass an open tavern door

without a sinking sense of something

sacred slipping loose inside.


Jerome L. McElroy


Accepted in The Portland Review (1992)