Family on Parole

His seventies have left him
looking like a jack-o'-lantern
but no one with half a heart
would say so. In his time
he was an athlete, an officer
an eldest son, a lover
a fisherman who took
his nephew chasing trout
on long summer days
that started and ended
with strong Spanish coffee.
That's the hero I choose to remember:
Rafael, a man of the Renaissance.

There are five lives
directly the result of his own;
twelve if you go downstream
to his great-grandson
whom he's never met.
His youngest daughter, a wisp
at thirteen, plays on my mother's computer
in the next room while my uncle and I
pretend to watch a program
on the history of the Underworld.
Hieronymus Bosch paintings of Hades
from the era of Columbus
have been chopped
doctored, and animated
with demons floating
across the screen
for the sake of this
fake documentary.
He keeps muttering
protests under his breath
a recurring one being
"The Bible doesn't say that."

The subject matter
swells too much. I offer up
the title and plot of a book
I've been reading
as a merciful sacrifice.
"I know that one.
Great story. Books are like
taking a trip," he states
in the mystified tone
of an old man who once
was excited by life.
It sounds like there was more
to his thought, but the words stop there.
A man who did fifteen years
in state prison would know about
the various means of escaping one's mind.
Literature, that trip, can tunnel under walls.

I remember the river we were fishing
when he told me. I was ten. I didn't care.
My uncle was not a manslaughterer to me.
Our eyes return to the screen
though we already know what Hell is.
"Do you need some more water?"
I ask as I rise to stretch my legs.
"I'm good, man. I'm good," he says
without adjusting his bifocals.

On my way back from the kitchen
I slip a crisp Fifty in my teenage cousin's hand
as she plays a game on mom's computer--
the only time she'll get to use one outside school.
My right index finger hovers above my lips
in the international code for
"This can be our secret."
Her eyes light up as she snatches
the bill and shoves it into the pocket
of her shorts, mouthing two words
that I should learn to say more often.

It's the first decent thing I've done all month.
I decide to ruin it later by sharing it with strangers.

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