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My Father, the American Hero



Honorable Mention for the 2013 Adroit Prize for Poetry
Judge: Garth Greenwell


My father proposed in front of Mount Rushmore
because he liked to act in the presence of greater men;
when my mother left, he beat on her Jacobean door.

He slapped me once, and afterwards made blueberry pancakes,
the spatula grasped by his nicotine nail beds;
in the afternoon, we toured Yosemite with headsets on.

On late afternoons he would do the Times crossword,
sometimes leaving the patio to call my mother
while my sisters and I took our baths.

He took us to South Dakota, and quoted from plaques
how men had died from the dynamite, and
how Cary Grant had hung by a rope for Eva Marie Saint.


None of us will buy real estate in Heaven.
We have summer homes down South. We migrate
in the winter by taxi cab, doing our Hail Mary’s in seatbelts–

The showers will be too cold. The Church we attend
will be cavernously non-denominational. It will serve
apple juice in paper cups every Sunday. In its best moments,

Heaven is a little bit like California, with its perfect mangos
stacked up in cardboard displays by Mexican employees
who throw expired nectarines into dumpster trucks.


My father had a plastic lung and an intravenous
when he apologized for being an imperfect man.
He didn’t make his peace with God in time;

I wrote a eulogy alone in his house to the gurgle
of a garbage disposal broken years
ago, all of his travel books still dog-eared.

At his funeral, I talked about the time he drove us
to a hardware store at one in the morning.
He bought huge, fist-like bulbs to plant. As we were

cleaning out the basement, my oldest sister
found them, peeling off plastic wrapping, the receipt
extending like a white sunrise.


Emily Bernard is a rising senior at Carleton College. Her poems have previously appeared in Whistling Shade Press, Word Riot, Wilderness House Literary Review, the Brewery Literary Journal, and Amethyst Arsenic. She is twenty-one years old.