Tervuren, Hit Not Hit

Late summer in Belgium,
Dad with a job offer from the British school
and enough money up front
for two rooms in a hotel in Tervuren.
We killed time before the term began:
on the terrace, drinking Trappiste from glasses
big as fish bowls;
at the Africa museum
against the reflecting display
of disembodied heads strung with fiber,
impenetrable and stern;
doodling lists on napkins, the way a kid will.

I spy with my little eye
something beginning with S, Mark said,
and I said, “shopgirl? squid? Sayers?”
because we’d been reading The Nine Tailors
and Irish stories.
“Soul cages?” I said.
And then Dad, sensing we were bored,
started in with his three jellyfish song, slurring.
It still feels like merriment
and could have been,
until roughhousing, I shut my brother’s foot
in the bathroom door, and Daddy raged, shouting
I will not have a sadist for a son!
smacking me across the face.

But when we went down for dinner
in the little bistro
he had recovered,
and even put his hand on my arm
before the bread arrived:
ramekins of cold butter,
crust that cut the gums /
and the black-shirted busboy
grunting like a docker —
the whole thing so vague and threatening
I put my head down
like the cup of a flower
closing in the dark.

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