By conservative estimates, there are currently enough wrongfully convicted people in prison in the United States to fill a football stadium.
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I can still picture the room where he set up his ham radio.
Homemade furniture. Threadbare rug. A small space heater.
I hated the beer-can aerial he installed on the garage roof
but loved the wall of postcards from all over the world,
sent by operators he talked to in dits and dahs.
Flowers placed by a golden statue in India. People picnicking
on a meadow in France. In Japan, gravel raked to look
like waves. And the beautiful stamps, promising
a world bigger than this house, this street, this city.
“These are QSL cards,” he told me, which, in ham-radio code,
means, I confirm receiving your transmission.
His own cards were plain white, his call sign printed in green.
The Depression, the war — for him they were never over.
He died in a shabby beach motel
that was green like his call sign, like a dollar,
the asking price in the online ad
for a QSL card he sent forty-five years ago.
I mail a check to Postcard Bill,
mention that the card was sent by my father.
It feels like a confession.
When the package comes, I put it on the table,
think about touching something my father touched.
I search his old ham-radio code book, as if I could send him
a message: QRL — I am busy. QRU — I have nothing for you.
QSB — Your signals are fading.
In the morning I open the envelope.
Between plastic layers, the card. Still plain white.
The blank spaces remind me of all the words
left unspoken. How there seemed to be a despair
inside my father that spread
through our house. On the back, a smudge of dried glue.
I imagine him licking the stamp, pressing it into place.
My father’s been dead many more years than I knew him.
Suddenly I want him to be here with me.
I didn’t think I’d ever want that.
But what if I were to hear a knock on my door?
I’d tell myself it’s nothing.
Then, the same light tapping, like a dream
coming back. Finally I’d open the door.
There, on the porch, I’d recognize his eyes
and his worn-out work clothes, hold his arm,
guide him to a chair, ask, Would you like coffee?
Do you still take it with sugar and cream?
Even now I wouldn’t offer anything stronger.
Then we’d sit with our cups, and, for the first time, we’d talk.
Just the thought of it makes me tremble.