In Stepfather's House

by Annette LeBox

His presence
                   reeked.
Copenhagen snuff, cigar, beer.
You could cut a knife
                      through the rancor.
When I entered, windows
                                      fogged up.
Doors clicked.
Spiders wove
                      webs of doubt.

Stepfather sat at the table,
Black tin lunch bucket
                before him.
He wore a blue and white
                    striped railroad cap.
Favoured his own
                           bloodline.
Named his
       babies Dodo and Diddums.  
Named me Persnickety.

Mother tuned pianos.
Her music ran out
                            of time.
A chorus of drones
            dive-bombed overhead.  
Ghosts of i lingered
                          in the corridor.
Cinderella in a gender-bending narrative.
The years dripped by.

My half siblings grew
           tender.
The hypotenuse of the triangle
       buffered
             the opposing sides.
His passing stopped
                   the trains midtrack.
There was a vacancy in the house.

my not father

my not father was a knot
                                      in my throat
he stilled my voice
                           to amplify his own
i never knew the effort it took
             to pretend
i didn’t care
             to disappear into air

i never once said his name

my not father was a mouth
      that chewed
                   tobacco from a tin
i was his spit cup
                   for the toxic stew
            he spewed
 receptacle for his rage
the mewling stepchild dragged into battle

my not father was a sorcerer
                         who cast a spell on me
so i shrank into myself
            refused to eat
insides twisted
     my small worried face
pale as blanched almonds
            body thin as a wraith

my not father hated sickness
      when i threw up in the backyard
i buried it with shame

my not father was the fist that pushed
my mother’s head through the kitchen window
           glass shattered
                       blood spattered
staining the floor

i picked out slivers from her hair

he shook his fist
                     grazing my chin
i lifted my face
                       daring him

the grandeur of his voice
        “I want . . . I want . . . to hit you.”

i grew skilled in combat
           stood on guard
             flinched at sudden sounds
                    objects lost or broken
unspoken auguries of war  

my not father took the woman
            next door
                        to my mother’s bed
as she drank to forget
            i nearly drowned in her tears

long after i left         
                        long after he passed
                he hovered
                             over my shoulder
an earworm
           that sang of bitterness and hate
it rang and rang and rang
                              and wouldn’t stop