Updated: Sep 28, 2021
A stranger’s tilted spine brings me to the top of my childhood’s staircase. From its edge, I watch my father digging through the drawers of a computer desk, sorting through time while folding laundry. Wincing, he redistributes his body weight between his two feet. Atop a patch of healthy grass, I watch as this stranger walks.
I’m distracted by his swinging arms. I’d like to ask him, Where did you get it from? The way you swing your arms? His forearms keel back with each stride his legs take; toes, and bones, and heel. At the height of their backward trajectory, the backs of his hands bend toward the sky, and his fingers scallop. Have you learned this from the men in your life? Have hundreds of men in your bloodline held their bodies this way? Has your father?
I’d like to ask his surname because it might suggest his family’s occupational history. As a sailor, he tosses his arms back like a mainsail in the wind. I’d first like to know if this stranger comes from a web of weavers, or whale hunters, or wisecracks. If his father was a woodworker or welder, then his shoulders might not droop toward his feet in fear, but toward his workstation in reflex. The sinuous, shelled curls of his fingers might indicate the work of generations past that sculpted the ideal grip for handling a farmer's pruner or shear.
This stranger might feign ignorance over the craft of men in his family. He might walk this way without understanding his grandfather’s work as a barber. He might drag his way from waypoint to waypoint without knowing that before his grandfather worked as a barber in a new country, he contorted heated metal as a blacksmith. Walking without the slightest clue that he carries his body as a man who can bend metal with fire and trim a crown of hair.
I’m distracted by the sunlight of the day, the sheen of grass; he walks on this lawn, hell in tow, he walks on this lawn. My vision crystalizes and tilts from shards of green, back to the top of my childhood's staircase. A wooden precipice flaking white paint and creaking. Watching my father as he moves with shuffled steps back to the computer desk, where he sifts through paperwork and licks fingertip whorls before clicking through sheets of bills and old mail.
My father flings his weight between his feet; the cracks in his knees are finicky brass locksets. He recoils and sighs before resuming work on the family's laundry, returning to the barber’s chair once more, his workstation, my body laid in haphazard beneath the sun rays, submerged in green.
Written by Shawn McNulty-Kowal