Blood History

The things that abandon you get remembered different.
As precise as the English language can be, with words
penultimate and perseverate, there is not a combination
of sounds that describes only that leaving. Once,
drinking & smoking with buddies, a friend asked if
I'd longed for a father. Had he said
wanted, I would have
dismissed him in the way that the youth dismiss it all:
a shrug, sarcasm, a jab to his stomach, laughter.
But he said
longing. & in a different place, I might
have wept. Said, Once, my father lived with us & then he
didn't & it fucked me up so much I never thought about
his leaving until I held my own son in my arms & only
now speak on it. A man who drank Boone's Farm & Mad
Dog like water once told me & some friends that there is no
word for father where he comes from, not like we know it.
There, the word for father is the same as the word for listen.
The blunts we passed around let us forget our
tongues. Not that much though. But what if the old
head knew something? & if you have no father, you can't
hear straight. Years later, another friend wondered why
I named my son after my father.
You know, that's a thing
turn your life to a prayer that nay dead man gonna answer
Reginald Dwayne Betts transformed himself from a sixteen-year old kid
sentenced to nine-years in prison to a critically acclaimed writer and graduate
of the Yale Law School. He is the author of a memoir,
A Question of Freedom: a
Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison
(Avery, 2010), and three
acclaimed collections of poetry:
Felon (Norton, 2020), Bastards of the Reagan Era
(Four Way Books, 2015), and
Shahid Reads His Own Palm (Alice James Books,
--"Blood History" first appeared in The Paris Review and Felon (Norton, 2020).
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