My Father’s Feet

Todd Dillard

On the drive to my dead mother’s storage unit
my father describes his feet

as two tulips in unbloom, petals-resealing,
the sinful toe supplicating toward the stoic heel,

some symptom of undiagnosable detonations
erupting at the base of his spine. We coil

deeper into the smoker’s lungs of Texas,
the road writhing beneath us like a rattlesnake

that hasn’t realized a shovel’s introduced air
between its body and brain. When we arrive

the storage unit doors swing open beneath my hands
like lips about to say sorry,

and maybe that is why at first I only see
throat blackness, cardboard box teeth.

I dig, extract hat boxes, law books, papers
Marlboro-yellow and crinkling like

onion skin, peeling away dust-fuzzed layers
of a life ceased—a broken rocking chair,

a marble tabletop, a sagging, corduroy couch.
Don’t overdo it, my father grunts,

balanced by clutching the lip
of the truck bed, and I realize

like prayers, like speeches about love,
all my father’s words describe are what he can do,

what he cannot do, what he needs.
He totters through the wind-twitched

bog of my mother’s goneness—Keep this.
Set that aside. Can you believe

all this time… as if time itself isn’t
what he’s laboring to scavenge,

proof the past was worth
what we’re still paying off

in this present. Hammer-headed
oil derricks spin and spin behind us,

pecking at the earth like drunk hens. And we,
the burdened, the runless, slip into the trap

laid by dusk. What we cannot keep or give away,
my father says, we’ll have to burn.
space break


In the boxes my father mails me
there are bags of fossilized candy,
swim medals, plastic trophies—
the kind for participants, not winners—
thirsty letters from alumni associations
sharing space with acne-ravaged photos,
boy scout badges, baseball cards,
clarinet reeds untouched by tongue
for over ten years, a diary of my dead mother’s
that spans the entirety of my adolescence
with only one mention of my name. For years
after I moved to New York he would talk
about my return home, of generations of Texans
(John Henry Dillard fought in the Alamo!),
my inevitable chubby-cheeked progeny,
their knees in his mind already slathered
with bayou grit, fishing poles heaved
over their shoulders, an Old Testament sky
the color of a soon-to-be-skinned catfish
looming overhead. Ten years, and we don’t talk
about my return, not anymore. Instead
he sends these boxes—letter jacket,
scuffed shoe, serpentine doodles
of dragons with bodybuilder arms,
a cigarette tin filled with comic books,
those first, thrashing poems,
like a child in a dark room
desperate for a light switch.
If you love them, the saying goes,
you have to let them go. Ten years,
and my father, I think, would add:
when you go, please, make sure
you take all of you with you.

Todd Dillard’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous publications, including Electric Literature, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Third Point Press, Split Lip Magazine, and Best New Poets. He is a recipient of a grant from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and his chapbook “The Drowned Hymns” is available from Jeanne Duval Editions. You can find Todd Dillard on Twitter at @toddedillard.