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Father and Son by Morton Marcus

June 18, 1989

His body is long, his face is long and thin. Overhung eyebrows and smoke-black eyes, and darkened hollows under cheekbones and chin. His teeth are white fangs, and even when he is seventy-one, they look like this. When he smiles, they slide into view, and make the boy cringe: the old man has a wolf in him. The old man's eldest son looks much the same: beard too heavy; mouth too grim. There is something definitely foreign in each of them. Angered, they'll growl and snap, pinch the offender's arms or ears and fling him toward another room with a boot in the buttocks or a final slap. That's for family, inside the house. For the bickerers and bargainers on the street, there are the smoke-dense eyes and the toothy grin. And should those outsiders cheat or curse, there's the knife in the boot-- or knobby knuckles hurtling toward their chins. To others the world is dog-eat-dog, but the old man and his eldest son are wolves, and they'll hear none of that. Besides, they're taking care: the family and all its heirlooms are in their charge: brooches and tarnished spoons, a pearl necklace from a great-aunt's will, several silver plates and cups. They are neither kind nor heroic men: they mean to survive. That's what the old man's parents taught to him, and he teaches it to his daughters and sons with such ferocity they cannot look him in the eye. Love is not the point--it never was. Joy and ecstasy are bearded men in black, who caper through the streets like laundry flapping on a line. Power, control--that's what he's after. Saliva sluices through his teeth, his eyes flash. When he dreams of God, he tells his eldest son, he envisions a hand that holds the world like a rock about to be thrown at a noise in the dark. The portion of rock covered by this hand is shadowy: night. The portion that isn't, all that bird song and light--"Vel," the old man says, "who cares about dhat." From "Pages From a Scrapbook of Immigrants: A Journey in Poems" by Morton Marcus (Coffee House Press: $8.95, paper; 144 pp.). Morton Marcus, 1989. Reprinted by permission of the Coffee House Press.

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