He’s old. Once my father built hard biceps working for US Steel, smelting iron in heat that humbled men. Now his arms are like kindling. He used to let me walk up his body, balancing my hands on his fingertips till I flew from his shoulders. They began to sag after my mother left. He saved the hair from her brush, wrapped in Kleenex, and stored in a wooden box by their bed. Every night he rubs the strands against his face.

He chooses what to forget. He’d crawl up stairs that creaked, after a night out with the boys, pee in curtained corners, and spread his fishy odor. He slapped me for mouthing off. His heavy right hand flew across my face, leaving purple prints on my cheek. Once I landed on the brick floor. Head knotted for days. Years later when confronted, my father accused me of hallucinations from smoking too much pot.

He remembers what he wants to remember. Talks about the blackbirds, how they shadowed the ground for miles, on currents that lifted them back to their roosts. Swooping down on trees, they sat wing to wing till the branches cracked under their weight.

He drinks himself away. At night with his Jim Beam in his faded recliner facing Jeopardy, my father drifts off to Kargasok in the Russian Mountains. Women live to be 105. So do their men, eating dried cod with mushroom tea. I pray he stays there soon.

Chella Courington (she/her) is a writer and teacher whose poetry and fiction appear or are forthcoming in numerous anthologies and journals including DMQ Review, The Los Angeles Review, and Scapegoat Review. Nominated for Pushcart, Best Small Fictions, Best of the Net, and Best New Poets. She was raised in the Appalachian south and now lives in California.