Our father used to chop off his own fingers,
pull quarters from our ears or clap his hands
to conjure Jolly Ranchers out of thin air.
We were heirs to the secret knowledge: that our father
was better than the other dads, with a gleam in his eye
that suggested he knew Important Things.
We shrilled with joy when he’d lift us onto his shoulders,
or do handstands and circle the yard.
Our birthday parties were always the best in town.
Abracadabra! and we were instant celebrities,
leading charmed elementary school lives.
Girls wore their admiration on their sleeves.
Not that we didn’t have it rough.
Times are always hard for dishonest men, no matter
how many rabbits they could pull out of a hat.
Some nights we heard our father swearing;
he muttered in his sleep.
Later the novelty would wear off, and perhaps
we had our shame on our faces once too often.
None of the card tricks or magic words
held the mystery and fascination they once did.
Abracadabras won’t put food on the table.
They won’t keep your kids out of fights or
your hands out of the liquor cabinet. They won’t dry up
sudden squalls of tears.
Maybe we should’ve seen it coming.
He lost the sparkle in his eyes, and fumbled the coins.
His breath was sweet with brandy. His armor rusted.
There were signs, but we thought he’d say, and now,
with a flick of the wrist, abracadabra! you can watch
It’s never that simple, and it’s always messy,
if you don’t know how to do it right.
There’s a gravestone, even though we never found a body.
The current was stronger than his soul. What if
we’d had a father that wasn’t larger than life, a farmer,
a pharmacist, someone boring who wouldn’t leave
his goddamn kids this way;
but then, we might accept this, move on easy.
His love was no legerdemain, so it must be this,
this passing away, this attempted suicide,
this sleight of body,
this Greatest Trick.
We wait for him at night. We whisper,
we squeeze our eyelids tight,
Joseph Harker is the pseudonym of a foolish twentysomething, lately located on the East Coast of the US. He dreams more than he ought to, scribbles less than he wants to, and is a textbook Libra in just about every way. If you’d like to bother him, it’s best to visit his online demesne, naming constellations (but do mind your step).