At age five I stand beside the tub observing my dad soaking, soapy, behind the newspaper. I am smitten by the size of him, the wet skin, joints, hair, and bone of him. I adore his hair, slicked back, black, gleaming like cracked flint, his heroic protruding knees, bony elbows splayed out along the rim like some plucked chicken too big for the pot. I love the grimy stubbiness of his thumbs, the car grease under his nails, the tanned and freckled backs of his hands as he holds the funnies gingerly above the sudsy water. Alone in this same tub at five, I have room to grow, could live for ages, soaping my thighs, rolling through liquid, laying my hot cheek against the long, cold arm of porcelain, learning hot, learning cold, learning wet, learning dry. But my dad is vast, cannot be contained. He presses like Samson against the mighty pillars of the temple. I picture cracks appearing in the porcelain, the pipes tearing like thunderbolts from the wall. I imagine the tub splitting like a rapped egg and the flood roiling down the hall to my mother in the bedroom. Coming to, I stare down into the murky water, peering into the dark space between his thighs as if searching for some rare fish. “Where’s the soap, Dad?” I ask. He mumbles, aware of my curiosity, my snooping, content to let it be. I glance over the fine black seaweed, focus on his sex, see it floating like a lotus. I know it is more than what Mom said: “How you tell the difference between boys and girls.” At age five I stand beside the tub, beside my great, gentle dad,staring down at the naked clue of his penis. The mystery of it fills the whole smooth space of my mind, spills out into the steamy air around me. I begin to think perhaps he is a god who can create whole worlds. I have pressed myself to the hard globe of my mother’s belly; I have felt the baby kick and twirl. I stand there blinking and staring like something new just up from the sea.
This poem previously appeared in The Tomcat and Calyx.