Fall River

by David Rivard

When I wake now it’s below ocherous, saw-ridged
pine beams. Haze streaks all three windows. I look up
at the dog-eared, glossy magazine photo
I’ve taken with me for years. It gets tacked
like a claim to some new wall in the next place—
Bill Russell & Wilt Chamberlain, one on one
the final game of the 1969 NBA championship,
two hard men snapped elbowing & snatching at a basketball
as if it were a moment one of them might stay inside
forever. I was with
my father the night that game played
on a fuzzy color television, in a jammed Fall River bar.
Seagram & beer chasers for hoarse ex-jocks,
smoke rifting the air. A drunk called him “Tiger”
and asked about the year he’d made all-state guard—
point man, ball-hawk, pacer. Something he rarely spoke
of, & almost always with a gruff mix of impatience
and shyness. Each year,
days painting suburban tract houses & fighting
with contractors followed by
night shifts at the fire station
followed by his kids swarming at breakfast
and my mother trying to stay out of his way,
each of the many stone-hard moments between 1941 & 1969—
they made up a city of granite mills
by a slate & blue river. That town was my father’s
life, & still is. If he felt cheated by it,
by its fate for him,
to bear that disappointment, he kept it secret.
night, when he stared deep into a drunk’s memory,
he frowned. He said nothing. He twisted on the stool,
and ordered this guy a beer.
Whatever my father & I have in common
is mostly silence. And anger that keeps twisting
back on itself, though not before it ruins,
often, even something simple
as a walk in the dunes at a warm beach.
But what we share too is a love so awkward
that it explains, with unreasoning perfection,
why we still can’t speak
easily to each other, about the past or anything else,
and why I wake this far from the place where I grew up,
while the wall above me claims now
nothing has changed & all is different.