220. Listening

“You’re not listening!–”
Bud whirled in a fury–
“You looking for a whipping,
Matthew Hines?
You’re asking for it, boy!
You’ll get it, too!”

Passing through the room,
Matt had in tow
The shiny yellow engine
From his train.
“What, Dad?”
Matt tried a helpful smile.

Bud ignored it.
“Boy, how old are you?
Yes, you heard!
How old?”
Matthew ducked his head,
And did not speak.
To reply would only
Feed Bud’s rage.
“I’d guess…” Bud made believe
To ponder it:
“I’d guess–
Are you three?
You pee your pants?
Matt blushed scarlet.
“What you say, boy?”
“What you say?”
“No, sir.”

“What did I discuss with you
Last night?” Frantically,
Matthew racked his brain.
Last night: Dad had said
The meat was tough, Ma cried,
Left the table, Dad had said
She wasted money, if she didn’t,
They could buy some steak….
“Boy, what’d I say?”
“Mama wastes our
Money,”  Matt piped, with as much
Conviction as he could.

“Don’t smart-mouth
Your mother!” Bud said.
“Boy, I’ll beat your butt!
You get smart with me?
That it?”
“No, sir.”
“What’d I say
About that stupid train?”
Frozen stiff, Matt
Cast about.
“Told you, keep that
Damn thing in your room!”

So that’s it: Matt
Went limp with relief.
Train, that’s all.
“I’m sorry, Dad.”
“Sorry don’t haul water.
Give it here.” A pause
Of half a second: then
Gingerly, Matt placed it
In his hand.
“I’ll keep this awhile.
I believe I will.”
“But–sir–how long?”
“That’s for me to know,
And you to wonder.
Now go on.”

Matthew left.
His dad was drenched in sweat,
Mind racing:
Well, what’d I expect?
Got no job, don’t
Give him no allowance–so
Why should he obey?

Matt sat on his bed.
He frowned and thought.
Dad had said before
Matt didn’t listen.
But how could that
Be right?
Matt shook his head.
Matt watched every scowl
And every gesture,
Weighed his dad’s voice–
Good Day, Bad Day, Tired….
Lately, some nights Dad
Smelled funny. Then next
Day, he’d think he’d said things
He had not. He just…
I do listen, Matt thought,
Squinting. I do. But–
If I try harder,
Next time I can
Lock it in my brain.
He kicked
At the toy track.

Damn that train.

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