“My Father’s Recitation” by Steve Coughlin


Found in Willow Springs 78

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MY FATHER RAN THROUGH my mother’s heart attack. He ran through the afternoon my sister was hit by a car, through the ice storm that knocked down our backyard fence. During the Blizzard of '78 my father stood on the porch and ran in place for eighty-five minutes. During the Blizzard of '91, instead of leaving work while the roads were passable, my father ran up and down eight flights of stairs. He spent the night at the factory on a concrete floor. The morning my older brother's unconscious body was found, skull bashed in, drug deal gone wrong, my father ran to his beat-up Mercury from his quarter-inch gear machine where he made miniature gears for boat engines. His brain ran so loud he could almost drown out the doctor's voice. "One, two, three," my father kept repeating. His watch counted each second. His note­ books, his volumes of notebooks, recorded the distance of each run, the weather and location. My mother, her skin a colorless white, knocked on the bedroom wall, kept calling his name, but my father, clinging to his numbers, was running loops around the high school track. He bought a new wristwatch, another pair of sneakers.


He ran with swollen knees, walked like a zombie into the living room unable to bend his legs. He ran through alcohol addiction, through depression so heavy a short run was the only reason to get out of bed. Past Stop signs, past Yield signs, past Do Not Enter signs. Drivers flipped him off after slamming their brakes. "One, two, three," my father explained. Was it the day of an election, the Challenger explosion? The Thursday my brother was expelled from school for lighting a fire behind the gym? My father's notebook observes, "6.9 miles/ Mostly cloudy/ Iced knees thirty minutes." Monday I delivered newspapers. Tuesday I delivered newspapers. I pedaled my bike and tried to join his recitation: "One, two, three." In twelfth grade I averaged seven-minute miles. I kneeled on one leg and vomited onto the sidewalk. I curled into a ball and waited for the shaking to stop. Never a discussion of shallow breathing, my mother's chest tight as a fist. Never a follow-up appointment with the doctor. Just my father running through the cemetery, past the polished granite of his son's stone. His numbers keeping pace with each long stride.

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