by Briana Boyd



Yesterday my father dumped Uncle Johnny's ashes between the paper
stacks and hollowed mills in a steel city. He watched the wind reach,
down, and pocket a brother, watched the sky take him back.

He kept some of the ashes in his own pocket, rolled them between
his fingers, and wiped it on the inside of his favorite hat, Uncle Johnny's hat. 
My father, made of steel, brick, and grey skies, cried that day.

I imagine my father as a young boy, with the desperate energy of youth
burning. I see him waking up to the white cold of Pennsylvania,
tugging on the sole worn boots, trudging to the chipped, sagging barn 

and butchering a beloved pig. He plays in the oil puddles and trash heaps,
the junkyard his jungle gym. His small hands furiously shining shoes for
some money. He hunches over a broken stove, dodging the pops of bacon grease

as he makes breakfast for his brothers. I hear him measuring silences
from a mother. I feel him trying to love her. Between the stings of the blunt
end of a knife and cutting stares from those blue, empty eyes, he tries.

He whispers prayers to the stars burning in the windows of factories, 
cigarette buds, and power lines. He steps on every crack in the sidewalk. 
He makes promises to love someone like how you're supposed to. 

Today my father is braiding my hair. I feel the warm, calloused hands bending
away steel, anger, and ash into the long brown strands. Built up from tears
and dreams—I think my father is a city.