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jacob appel

the night my father dies in new york

Alone on a business trip south of Tampa

I roll into an old-style shell-themed motel

Whose arms curve around its courtyard

Like the valves of a cockle.

I know these motels: the avalanche

Of the ice machine in its alcove;

Mold-resistant nylon carpets; salt

Air and tiny wet slapping girl-feet.

I was once the size of those girls,

Flat-chested in a two-piece suit,

Lugging sand in my tiny plastic pail,

As though bagging against a flood.

Yes, I was once that age: Barrettes

And booboos; nightmares; nicknames.

Impatient—but not yet embarrassed—

When my father reviewed, line by line,

The itemized tab at the pancake house.

Later, I would cringe when he joked

Too loud about frying up the exotic

Fish in the lobby tank, roll my eyes

As he made us map out the fire exits. Or

Buick loaded, mom already at the wheel,

Search beneath the bed for socks and coins.

He always left $5 in singles for the maid.

And then one day, unmarked, we shut

That final motel door. Tomorrow on my knees

Below the sagging springs I’ll search alone:

No smile from the far side of the bed.

JACOB M. APPEL is a physician, attorney and bioethicist based in New York City.  He is the author of the poetry collection, The Cynic in Extremis, as well as seven volumes of short fiction, five novels, and a book of essays.  More at:

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