UNDERGROUND VOICES: POETRY


ROBERT LAUGHLIN

Bribery

They bribe him.

Heís the only child of mine
and Iím the only child of theirs.

My mom:
she wishes for no daily company
but that of her philodendrons.
The thing, among so many,
that cut her loose
was finding that the other woman was a man.

My dad:
heís alone too, now.
The man for whom he got divorced
had a bad cardiac history.
My dad has been a same-sex widower
these last four years.

They broke up when I left the house,
and Iím sure their love for me
was all that kept them together that long.

Itís a rare week
I donít get an invite from one or the other
to visit and bring my son along.
My husband says itís not nice
to freeze the old folks out of our lives.
I never argue, I wonít allow it in my marriage...
so we go.

Theyíre competing with each other
for their grandsonís love.

My mom bakes him a cake, three layers high;
the frosting is smothered
with every kind of candy he likes.

My dad keeps us overnight
and lets him stay up late
watching old horror films on the DVD.

Itís an arms race and I canít stop it.
Fishing trips;
rented ponies;
rolls of arcade tokens;
trips to ice cream parlors;
ever bigger, ever better presents
for Christmas and his birthday.

Hate is verbal, love is material:
thatís the way my parents have figured it.

They used to bribe me too,
but in a completely different spirit.

Whenever I had to do something awful
that wasnít punishment,
like getting my teeth fixed,
or going to the vet with an old dog or cat
and coming home alone,
afterward Iíd be treated in some way.
They would take me out to dinner
or let me propose our next vacation spot.

And it made me happyó
not because of the payoff.
I got to see them, just once,
unite behind something other than the shared goal
of finding each otherís faults.

No daughter knows for sure
what her parents were like before she was alive.
But there must have been a time,
however briefly it outlasted the ceremony,
when they were really man and wife.
I was the product of that state,
a conscious one, I think,
and they bribed me,
sparingly, in the spirit of true love.

They bribe my son,
still a link to them,
trying a route to his heart
through his stomach, eyes, ears, hands,
or any organ they can take
in gilded, syrup-dripping talons.

This bribery is not love.









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