by Kazim Ali
Crudité and crackers. That’s how my own myth starts.
I’m slicing cucumbers when the phone rings with that ominous tone
of a call you are not expecting. It’s happened, I think. He’s gone and I wasn’t there.
And then comes his voice, alive and unbothered, same as it was,
maybe a tiny bit more gravelly, “Behta?” and haven’t I imagined this moment
a hundred and eight times before, once for each turn in that Minoan maze,
once for each feather individually affixed to my back.
Sometimes I am silent and wait for him to speak, sometimes I hang up,
sometimes I am angry, sometimes I start crying, but in none of them do I do
what I do now, which is respond—conversationally,
as if it hasn’t been decades since the labyrinth—Dad.”
Oh, a lifetime since I entered the blue deep, since choking to the surface,
treading water and scanning the thudding horizon for whatever rescue
by bird or boat I thought would come that did not come.
Perhaps it is not surprising that I grew up ordinary, the son of a great genius,
a once-rash once-lad who dared everything to feel fire, to be exceptional,
to reach the sun, to see what fish flickered beneath the dark surface.
He begins in the middle of a sentence, like he always did, talking about the virus
and grocery delivery and what’s happening with my cousin’s youngest son
who has decided to drop out of college and become a DJ and just like that I feel
the vibration of his voice banishing the old story denying all my anger and sadness
of the decades since I somehow swam through the night to distant rocks,
weeping through my salt-raw throat. And so what is there to say?
I ask him what he shopped for,
and he says they don’t have Weetabix and he drinks almond milk now
and the life where I flew away from him and he let me go just winks out
and a new life starts unraveling in its place.
For us there’s no epic end, no begging the king of the underworld
to return the lost son, no father casting himself grief-stricken into the sea.
For a moment, I think: he always did invent the most exquisite prisons.
Then I think: or is this what we can bear, is this the price we are willing to pay.
He asks are the cucumbers organic, and did I know they have vegan cheese now.
and did I get those delicious rice crackers or plain saltines.