Issue Thirty-Eight - Summer 2021

Star Slinger

By Deborah Burghardt

Knowing others plot
and await your surrender,
knowing if you do surrender,
they may kill you anyway—
that kind of knowing
is not my country.

My father lived in that place for a time,
on his knees, unable to turn his face away from the water
swirling in the toilet bowl.
“This is how they’ll get through. Need to set up a barricade.”
He slammed the lid shut. “Keep watch at all times.”
And I pretended to. No questions asked, trying to believe.
Not wanting him to be crazy.

Once Dad used an entire roll of clear plastic tape
to wrap a small package for mailing.
“That’s enough. Dad. Stop.”
“Why? You can never be too sure.”
And then I thought,
Isn’t that the truth? You can never be too sure—
That’s not crazy. That’s caution.

Dad sobbed over the KDKA evening news
every night for a week.
I thought his despair strange—
mourning for people he didn’t even know.
And then I thought,
Someone has to care about the world, cry
for people no one else does.
You could go crazy trying to ignore the injustice.

I talked Dad out of buying a lawn tractor
for our postage stamp yard in town.
I failed to talk him out of his profound grief
over my mother’s death from multiple sclerosis.
“I should have done better for her.”
“But from what I saw, you did all you could.”
He shook his head. “Not enough.”
And then I thought,
I should have done better too.
She didn’t mean to drive us crazy with worry.

I came home to Dad writhing in his bedsheets,
curled into the fetal position, calling my name.
“Now that you’re here,” he said, “all will be well.”
I doubted that. Doctors labeled him a “manic depressive.”
I was proud of my special dad, my loving dad, my character of a dad.
They ordered psychotherapy.
Electro-shock treatments.

I’ll never forget the year Dad
flung tiny gold stars
across the Christmas tree branches.
How the stars floated to the floor,
glistened on the gold carpet.
I’ll never forget his beautiful mess.

Copyright 2021 Burghardt