My father had this persistent habit of laughing
at his own jokes. Not a hearty, bellowing laugh,
thank God, but a gentle, closed-mouth chuckle,
as if he was trying to clear his throat.
When I was maybe 12, he recorded my little cousin
having a meltdown in the middle of my uncle’s pool,
after she’d been thrown in by said uncle.
“Help, help, save me,” she cried,
wearing her inflatable arm floaties
and my old Minnie Mouse dance leotard I didn’t need anymore.
“No don’t, I could get money for this tape,” he joked.
And then there was the laugh, which I will now call,
The pigeon was often best heard on our camcorder.
We had one of those cameras that used little tapes
that we would then have to put inside a big tape
in order to watch the videos on our VCR.
For years, Dad literally took that thing everywhere with us.
In a Christmas video, the laugh came out
when he cracked a joke with my aunt
about my great-grandmother receiving a gift certificate
to Pathmark. “It’ll probably all go towards feeding the dog,”
he pigeoned. The same aunt called him out on the pigeon one time,
and he denied it – while actually doing it.
The same way he denied all the afterwork martinis,
the 60 hour work weeks, the tantrums he’d throw at red lights,
and the cancer.
We all thought he’d drop dead of a stroke at 52
the way his father did. “Never sick a day in his life
then boom.” Pigeon
But dear God he’s still here, and I can’t recall the last time
I heard that laugh. Whatever he records on his IPhone
rarely has his voice on it. But from his laugh,
I learned that sometimes you do need to nudge
other people’s sense of humor. Then sometimes
you have to nudge your own to remind yourself
you still have one. Dad still has that dry jokiness
even when things get tough.
No matter the month, day, or hour
everyone in his circle has to be okay.
If I told him that it’s okay to not be okay,
I don’t think he would understand.
But when seeking absolution after a rock bottom hit,
he’s the one to remind us there’s no where to go but up.
And then he may pigeon slightly as if he’s the only one
who knows that – and most of the time he is.
streets once crowded with Ben Cooper costumes,
running from door to door
through blocks of military housing.
In grassy courtyards, we’d spread out
old comforters and brought out Cabbage Patch Kids,
play food, and stuff we thought all women
had to carry in their purses,
like Dep hairspray, press on nails, and candy cigarettes.
On our blanket home we were adults
without a roof. We were women
without concrete ceilings.