Matthew Lippman
Bound Off to the Second Avenue Deli

     "At the end of her essay Zadie Smith tastes her father’s ashes. I cried         reading it. I cried for Zadie Smith and for her father. For my own, I         touched nothing, my tongue nowhere near words, hand on my                 head, arm on my shoulder. I do not even know how to describe it.           Only a howl for how I wanted to be fed once, how I learned to want         nothing." –Jessica Cuello


What do we do with fathers? What do we make of them?
Mine, right now, is in a nursing home on 72nd and York,

          losing his mind.
Dad, you want a pastrami sandwich?
He says, Yes, pastrami,
and all of his teeth have left his mouth.
I bound off to the 2nd Avenue Deli, shell out 400 dollars for a pastrami

          on rye, deli mustard,
Doctor Brown’s Black Cherry soda, come back to his room
and he’s gone.
He’s on the bed asleep. I kiss his forehead and he opens his eyes,
looks at me like I’m Saturn or the mayor of New York City in 1969,

       John Lindsay.
I got you a pastrami sandwich.
He closes his eyes and I kiss him on his forehead and he opens them and

       says, I’m not hungry.
Now, that’s a father for you.
That’s a dad who knows what’s up.
Who knows how to be a man,
how to take care of his manliness, his family, his earth,
the existential bliss of not remembering a goddamn thing.
So, what’s next, I think, and begin to cry
It’s all that’s left, the crying alone in the patent leather chair
while all the machines down the hall in other rooms
hum like dinosaurs
and the aides roll carts up and down the hall like ferrymen
and it’s all nothing.
You could cry forever and all you have is nothing.
It’s the only way to have it be something,
to desire emptiness,
and then every little thing is the ash of a father’s pastrami sandwich—
fatty, greasy, chalky—
exploding in your mouth like this dance between life and death
is the only thing that could fill you up.


Found In Volume 53, No. 01
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Matthew Lippman
About the Author

Matthew Lippman is the author of six poetry collections, including Mesmerizingly Sadly Beautiful, Salami JewMonkey Bars, and The New Year of Yellow, which won the Kathryn A. Morton Poetry Prize.