Up on Blocks

By Jim Daniels

Featured Art: Winter Scene in Moonlight by Henry Farrer

His father limping
from his stroke,
throwing his lunch pail
into the back of his pickup
like some stubborn, gimpy
shot putter, then driving off
to the job they gave him
after his rehab: steering
a hi-lo through the greasy plant

after Danny died

one day recovering on the porch
he hollered for the ice-cream man
to stop, then bought us all popsicles

after Danny died

because his son—Vietnam—and so, and so.
He had a cough that could maul a lion
but he wouldn’t stop smoking

after Danny died

Danny left his car, an absurdly red
Fury, up on blocks on our pocked street
to work on when he got home
but he never did, so

after Danny died

the car sat rusting
no one touched it for years
till one night some asshole torched it
a whoosh heard down the block

and his father trembled and collapsed
in the terrible light of the flames

after Danny died

a tow truck dragged away the mess
gouging the concrete with sparks as it pulled away

leaving charred cinderblocks like used-up Bibles
and we hauled them away to the weedy field
behind Bronco Lanes where they may be lying still.
Oh, the shame of the unmarked grave somewhere
in this world, off the end of our radio dials
while we fiddled with the blown fuses
of our cheap electric hearts

after Danny died

his father survived the second stroke
with one arm twitching. He returned to sit
on that porch, drooling odd noises,
flinging gestures with his good arm. I sat with him
one afternoon for hours, then never again

after Danny died

because I was no saint and he was no prophet
and his pickup replaced the Fury
as the vehicle going nowhere
and his wife bagged groceries at the A&P
down the block and brought home
what she could carry

after Danny died

and we were fierce and serious boys
who would never go to war and thus
could always be fierce, and we too
smoked cigarettes and swore
and fucked and carried on like Danny did

before he died

and I have not mentioned his virgin bride
and the ramshackle wedding of a false
pregnancy annulled shortly after
but he had already signed up
that’s the way it was on our street
of the hard luck and the harder

before and after Danny died

and he planted a bottle of Boone’s Farm
Apple Wine on every table
in the grade school cafeteria
and we squeezed onto the tiny benches
and danced to Top 40 in front of the stage
where the bridal party sat

and he guzzled from the bottle
like the king of America
in his frilly tuxedo shirt
and his father—Lord, his name
was Bruno, gave the saddest
toast I’d ever heard, then sat down
and smiled the beatific smile
of the damned and the oblivious

and I cannot remember it now
having drunk from the bottle myself
at fifteen—nobody fought, and he
left happy, and the bride and groom
drove off in the Fury
toward the welcoming cliff and

after Danny died

the war ended quickly and the ice-cream man
got busted for selling drugs

we all stood at attention
at Bruno’s funeral
like soldiers who had lost their general

because he had once bought us popsicles
because we would live forever

and no one burned the pickup
and his widow took to driving it
and one winter morning
I scraped her windows clear
then never again

after Danny died

because I had my own car
and it started, and it ran,
and I put on as many miles
as I could

after Danny died.

Jim Daniels is the author of many books of poems, including, most recently, Rowing Inland and Street Calligraphy. His sixth book of fiction, The Perp Walk, was published by Michigan State University Press in 2019, along with the anthology he edited with M.L. Liebler, RESPECT: The Poetry of Detroit Music. A native of Detroit, he currently lives in Pittsburgh.

Originally appeared in NOR 14.

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