James Dean Johnson
for Danni Quintos
After my father signed the papers,
I lived with him every other weekend
in his hilltop trailer. His home filled
with women as giddy and naïve
as cherubs, a string of thin blonde
paper dolls he dangled between
his index fingers and thumbs.
They did their girlfriend duties,
fed me, kept his box home clean,
grew vegetables in his backyard
garden. They came into his home,
cleared away dying cucumbers,
squash, zucchini, replaced leftovers
of the women who came before
with chili peppers or cherry tomatoes.
They each planted papery bulbs of garlic
in their inherited soil. They were never
around long enough to taste their
peppers or tomatoes in my father’s
cooking, but the garlic lingered, staining
their throats, striking the air like the pluck
of a fiddle when they spoke, settling
into skirts, sliding into drains when
they showered or washed their hands.
In my mobile home memories, they
are sink-side specters tainting the air
with their redolence, forever asking
How big is the garlic in my garden now?
I cannot answer them, cannot tell them
that the garden was never theirs; I cannot
even remember their names. I call them
turquoise, dried bone, the whisper of a feather,
things I found at the bottom of my father’s
sock drawer that never see the light.