Crest of the Ilium

Because he’s cold all the time, the Devil rides in the back of my car with my father’s Navy pea coat around his shoulders. I can see him fingering the seams in the upholstery and looking for ashtrays in the arm rests. He thinks I’m driving his Grand Marquis. We’re on our way to visit my father, dying of Alzheimer’s in a gloomily named nursing home called Legacy.  

My father’s room smells like pee and he’s curled in his bed like a lab monkey. The Devil stands at his bedside, strokes my father’s yellowed hair. He tells me when I’m my father’s age I won’t be able to express my bowels either.

And me, I can still see my dad swimming laps in the natatorium at Kellogg Community College, my sister and I with towels around our shoulders. We’re shivering in the stands and drinking the orange sodas he bought us. I can still remember him flipping off a cop when the cop’s back was turned. Or when he caught a line-drive foul ball one-handed at old Busch Stadium, standing up, a scorer’s pencil in his mouth like a cigarette, his throwing hand on my chest to keep me safe. There was the time when I walked upstairs from our basement, half asleep, and found him in the kitchen putting glasses away. “Who are you?” I asked, disoriented.

“Who are you?” my father, smiling and handsome, asked back.

“Crest of the ilium, brother,” the Devil is telling my dying dad, who’s watching him out of one eye, passively, beyond the reach of worry. “Block him at the hip. Pancake that sorry son-of-a-bitch.”

My jaw cracks and my tinnitus holds the world’s highest note. It’s late. The Devil is looking out the window at the parking lot. The tv is on. I can hear the staff clearing tables in the dining room that smells like gravy. My dying father is sitting up in bed now, but he’s not aware we’re there. He’s indifferent to everything. He’s hesitating to touch something only he sees in the air in front of his face.

Me, I’m trying to remember verses about heaven and wishing I hadn’t lost his self-winding watch.

Soon enough my father will just die in December. And I’ll have to decide to bury him in O-hi-o. But I’ll give the mortician his best blue suit and the maize tie I’ll buy at Macy’s. My cousin will bring a bag of dirt she dug from consecrated places in my dad’s hometown in Michigan. From his high school football field. From the lot where Sparta Baptist used to be. From the apple orchards where he and his two brothers hunted pheasants. From the house where he lived with those brothers and their six sisters, his mother who went blind, and his father, a welder.

All of us will reach into the bag to take a clod. Crumble it on top of the casket. I’ll be the last. His only son. An honor guard will play "Taps" but not “Hail to the Victors” because I lost the nerve to ask, and when we drive away, my father’s ghost will be standing in a shallow stream at the bottom of the hill, one foot on the bank and one bare foot in the water, his pant leg pulled up to the knee, his hands wringing a six iron, his eyes on the target: here’s to his greatest golf shot.

But before that happens, the Devil and I have to get home. We leave my poor father for another night in that place. We roll the windows down. It’s warm and the summer night air is musky. We sit for a minute more. We hear screech owls in the woods and coyotes howling in the soybeans. The Devil is all ears. Can’t I smell the juniper bushes? The goldenrod? He cocks his head to listen. Those are tree frogs there. And them’re crickets, course.

He cranes his neck out the window and looks up, Japanese beetles flying into the lone mercury light over the basketball hoop, bats doing figure eight loops across the sky. God's infinite twitches.

I check the car’s side mirror. The lights are still on in my father’s room.

I check again a moment later and they’re off.

Pitch black. Quick as that.

Bird Report

Pigeons walking like shoppers around the yellow safety bollards in front of IKEA. A house sparrow in the concrete planter next to where I’m now parked, waiting for my wife. The weather is warm and I have my window down. The sparrow hops about, chittering to itself busily, like a child in a sandbox.