James Lee Jobe
The Things That Happened When My Father Abandoned Us In A Bus Station In A Strange City After We Had Traveled Three Days To Be With Him - Poem by James Lee Jobe
Dad pulled his hand away from me as he turned to leave.
I can still feel his hand leaving mine, his skin leaving my skin.
The smoke from his Pall Mall cigarette trailed after him,
I can still smell it, and I can still smell his after-shave lotion, too.
In fact, today I use the same brand, just to remind myself
that I didn't matter to him. I didn't see him again for a year.
I never held his hand again, ever. He never again embraced me,
and I never trusted him. My father has been dead for 25 years
and I still haven't found a reason to trust him.
My mother wept on a wooden bench while my sister and I pretended
not to notice. I was 8 and she was 13, and we played a game
like nothing was happening, like Dad hadn't hissed snakelike at Mom,
'I'll get you tickets back home or I will leave you right here, Nena!
If you stay in Texas I won't give you a goddamn thing. Go home
to your mother! ' 'I can't go home, Jim, I can't face them...'
I watched white clouds blow easy across the powder-blue sky
through the station's glass door as my father's new Chevy Impala
peeled out on the downtown Dallas street. Even at 8 I wondered,
'How did he get a new car when Grandma had to help pay our busfare? '
But I watched the clouds, not the car, and I didn't ask him
how he got the car, not even years later when we were drunk
and angry at each other, and I really knew it had been his girlfriend's car.
I became nothing that fall morning, and my sister became nothing.
We were specks of dirt, part of the grime of a bus station,
the gum on the underside of the benches, the drops of urine
that missed the urinal. We were worthless, my father had proved it.
30 years would pass before I felt any worth in myself again,
and my sister never felt any worth; just ask any of her ex-husbands,
or the 3 children that she would herself abandon a decade later,
or ask the drug dealer who sells her the dope that has rotted her teeth
and her mind. We had no home, no father; a family ripped apart.
Shame became our house, and I lived there until I was sick of it.
My mother counted her money, less than ten dollars. I felt hollow inside.
Sometimes I still do. We had enough for a lunch-counter meal
and a phone call for help. Later that day, after work probably,
father's younger brother came for us, took us to his home nearby.
My mother would find menial, hard work that paid little,
soon we would get a slum of an apartment, eat biscuits
for some meals, use second hand sheets for curtains.
But not that day; that day we were strangers in a strange land,
no one knew us, no one wanted us, we were like roaches,
3 filthy cockroaches trying to not be noticed as the hours ticked off
in a busy downtown bus station, tired, dirty, and alone.
That's what happened that day, in the fall of 1964.
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