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Winter 2008

The North Side

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I took a job at the Arnold Grill,
topping off drafts with a paddle
for the Saint Johnsbury truckers.

Tuesday nights my father came in
to buy a shot of muscatel
and nurse it in a far booth
beside a small jukebox
which he plied with quarters.

He was dead, so the smoke
and obscenities did not bother him.

At 3 a.m. I began counting my tips—
a fortune in Canadian pennies.

Once, I confronted him:
why do you keep coming?
Can't you rest? And why Tuesday?

He was hurt. He averted his fine eyes
and joined a conversation
about Billy Martin—

had he ruined Vida Blue?
A waitress laughed—apparently
my father knew nothing of the forkball—
and next Tuesday he did not come.

No one missed him.
The pool players cleaned the table,
rack after rack, adjusting the score
with beads on a string in midair,

the dart players paused, with pursed lips,
pushing the feathers through air
as if they had just found an opening,

but my father had not returned,
not even as a ghost, not even
as a tremor in a punter's hand.

I locked the iron door at first light,
lowered the steel shutters,
clicked the seven padlocks,

and instead of my father,
to whom I'd spoken all my life
with bitterness, with sarcasm,
I spoke to that uncertain moment
between false dawn and dawn
when the traffic roars north,
just streaks of trapped light,
lamps go out in the charity ward,
and the tenements light up,
the highest floors first:

why can't you rest, I said.

—D. Nurkse

D. Nurkse's next book, The Border Kingdom, will be published by Knopf in 2008.

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