An Inadequate Father
From October to April, our daughter has had ear infections.
Each month we bring her to the doctor’s
for co-pays and prescriptions that proved costly
for remedies that never happened.
And so she needs tubes and her adenoids removed.
The nurses gurney her into a room filled
with birthday balloons and foil-made Disney characters,
Spidermans and SpongeBobs floating beneath the fluorescent-lit ceiling.
The anesthesiologist points to them, then to a face mask
attached to a cartoon-sticker adorned helium tank and asks,
“Would you like to blow some balloons?”
The wife and I wait in the room
where our daughter will return an hour later,
still asleep and numb, drowning from her dreamt bedroom
of balloons slapped repeatedly by the ceiling fan,
the strings dangling out of reach
regardless of her tiptoeing on step stools.
My wife and I learned that our daughter could not hear us
at the height of her ear infections, hear us past the threshold
of pain excruciating enough to cause fever
to where what she heard was comparable to being underwater.
I wish I had known this, for I yelled at her everyday,
repeating myself as people did when realizing they were speaking
to a deaf person, believing their voices were divine enough
to graft miracle to the cochlear suddenly made receptive to vibrations.
In those months I wonder if my daughter knew the difference
when I drank too much that I marbled my words to make myself understood,
if my yelling sober was any different.
When the nurses bring her back to the room,
we watch her until she awakes from her operation.
She is groggy, squinting to identify face with voice,
and she sets her eyes on me and keeps blinking,
blinking like a diver anticipating the surface of abundant air
and promised light, and I know she is remembering that time
I slapped her when she did not answer me.
31 Days in November
For our daughters, Layla and Naomi, on Mother’s Day
I have known about the previous man:
the one who once yelled at her in a restaurant,
and she turned red just to blend
with the color of the booth they sat in,
grew small as the buttons that dimpled the backrest
with each stare by the patrons who slow-chewed,
even went slack-jawed,
afraid the sound of their mouths working
would drown out what came next.
The one who knew his hands around her throat
could succumb her to temporary sleep
and give him a reprieve
from an argument he felt went on
a minute too long.
He’s the same one who now spends time in jail,
the one the local news channel had played over and over
of his walking into Wal-Mart,
dousing lighter fluid on a rack of women’s jogging suits
before setting a Bic to it. Though grainy
in black and white, he grinned
as he watched the collars collapse inward,
the sleeves thinning until they lepered at the shoulders;
watched as their legs became paraplegics’ dreams
of wanting to run again; watched
until they became unrecognizable heaps
upon the floor, the steel hooks of hangers
the only thing left on the circular rod,
the advertised ROLL-BACK price
So when I gather our daughters at the dinner table
and wait for my wife to turn off the television,
I hear an intake of air caught in her throat,
a sound sudden and sharp snatched from her
prompts me to ask, what is it? and she stands
before the television to the news of his release.
She wonders how could they have let him go so early?
Do they not register
the fire in his eyes?
The girls sort peas in a row, or hockey them like pucks.
Their mother does not get after them,
for she barely eats dinner herself.
She is thinking of her mistakes as she watches
our girls forcing their pinkies away
from the cups they raise to their lips,
the satisfying sighs after each sip.
I wonder what my wife will do
when she runs errands, goes shopping, or jogs,
That night, before bed, I wind my watch forward,
for there aren’t 31 days in November.
Our daughters are asleep
after having read to them of a bad wolf,
a chapter of an orphan in London.
I go to bed after my wife’s worrying
wore her down to dreaming,
and I’m sure what troubled her
is what troubles me as I try to sleep:
will our daughters know what to do
if they find hands around their throats;
know when to come away from the table
at a restaurant and not be embarrassed
when patrons take note of their leaving;
the many eyes following my girls
as they make their way past tables and booths,
past counters and hostesses taking down names
of customers who sit, stand or lean
while waiting to be seated, waiting to have menus
handed to them, their drink orders taken,
and nodding to would you like another minute to decide;
I worry if our daughters will know
not to let any man reduce their worth
to a rack full of jogging suits afire,
that their fire will dwarf
the sun any man hopes to awake to
Genaro Kỳ Lý Smith was born in Nha Trang, Vietnam in 1968. He earned a B.A. in English from California State University, Northridge in 1993. He later earned an M.A. and M.F.A. in creative writing from McNeese State University in Lake Charles, LA in 1999.
He is the author of The Land Baron’s Sun: The Story of Lý Loc and His Seven Wives (UL Press). His novel The Land South of the Clouds, the second in the trilogy, is slated for release in 2016.
His other works of poetry and fiction have been published in Crab Orchard Reviw, Pembroke, Gumbo: An Anthology of African American Writing (Doubleday/Broadway), Xavier Review, Northridge Review, Amerasia Journal (UCLA), turnrow (U of Louisiana at Monroe), Scene Magazine, dis-Orient, Christmas Stories from Louisiana (UP of Mississippi), Kartika Review, Asian American Literary Review, and Blue Lyra Review.
He received the ATLAS grant by the Louisiana Board of Regents for 2013-14. He has earned first place in the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Fellowship competition, a recipient of both the Louisiana Division of the Arts Artist Fellowship and mini-grant, second place in both the Poets & Writers Exchange Program, and for his short story “Dailies” in 2008 from the Santa Fe Writers Program.
He currently resides in Ruston with his wife Robyn and their two daughters, Layla and Naomi. He has been teaching literature, composition, and creative writing at Louisiana Tech University since 1999.