We moved around lots when I was a kid.
It was pop's job.
He'd turn from the window to me and mom
- the matchstick switching in his teeth.
'Time to relocate,' he'd say.
Hambone, Tennessee... Pickweed,
Arkansas... Scufflebutt, Alabama...
He'd go out early, come home late.
'What does pop do, mom?' I asked her
She grinned down at me - snapping her
'Yo' poppa's a ve'y impowtan' main,
honey. He's a See-cure-ity Assessah.'
We lived in rooms with fold-down beds.
Iceboxes and TVs. Showers. Sometimes, a bath.
Mom and pop had lots of maps. They sat
up late, circling names.
Grinder, Mississippi... Wartnipple,
Louisiana... Bugsights, Kansas...
Pop had a big car. A Chevy Impala.
Impaler, he'd say. He loved it. He'd stand at the window for
hours, looking out there.
Some nights, he'd drive us out to eat.
Steaks with fries. Ribs. Soda floats. Pop paid from his roll of
bills. He'd wink at me, squeezing my shoulder.
'Y'all needs good food to build up them
muscles, bwoy. Liken your poppa's.'
He had a tattoo on the top of his arm.
A heart with a dagger through it, blood dripping.
Poncelette, Illinois... Chase City,
Oklahoma... Dedler, Missouri...
I loved his smile, and his big voice.
Hers, too. We were a happy family. I'd heard about rich people, and
thought that's what we were. Mom with her leather jacket and
bobby-sox. Pop with his big hat and shiny matchstick teeth.
He had gleaming eyes. They darted
everywhere, watching people. They smiled when they saw me, though.
And mom. He was older than she was. 23. After he taught me, I'd
count up to it. It seemed like a great age to be. I couldn't
imagine being it myself.
Forkeye, Colorado... Credence,
Arizona... Faithless, New Mexico...
A desert road. Buildings ahead.
He looked at me over his shoulder as he
drove the 'Impaler' - mom at his side. He winked a big one.
'Where are we going this time, pop?'
'Somewheres good, don't you worry
He pulled up by a drug store.
'Poppa's got some work to do
I stood up - my left hand on his
shoulder, my right on hers.
'See-cure-ity Assessah-in' work,
He tweaked my nose. His eyes and smile
'You got it, junior. Won't be two
swings of a mule's tail-bone.'
He leaned over and kissed mom. Then he
got out and went into the store. The engine was running. Mom
shifted over to his seat.
'Is pop good at his job, mom?'
She took a drink from her tin bottle
and lit a cigarette.
'He's the best they is, Jimmy. Don't
She tapped her fingers on the wheel.
Ash dropped on her jeans.
We both sat there, watching for him.
We jumped at the gunshots. She
screamed his name.
I sat there, frozen in the heat.
The day I became the man he needed me