The Bookie

Let's put it this way: I didn't purr, didn't whine
didn't approach him the way
a needle approaches skin, searching for blood.
I remember a pop sound,
a face denting inward,
and a nest of wrinkles spreading
across his lap as he stood.

Besides the fold of leather opening like doors,
there was a bouquet of bills behind Sinatra music
and the smell of aftershave.

My father-the bookie.

I used to think his skin tasted like money. Saturday nights
St. Matt would come down and bless him, make him think
we all wanted a lick when he came home.
But inside those khakis a jet-trail was forming
and fifty miles away a vault of married coins
found their way into his pockets.

Did you ever need something really bad? Chances are
he had it. The used-up nickels, the laundered money,
those green pennies. Even his fingernails had diamonds
rimmed around the cusps, manicured
smoothed until you felt only the fixed eyes
of saints across the edges. And his hands
leathered from networks upon networks
of touching other hands, other people's money.
Some nights he would show
me the thousands he collected after
an easy take. Other times I'd just watch
the man go into the kitchen, open his
envelopes, count the bills while
Mom, lost in the excitement, would
stand on the table and begin to dance.

Jospeh Sheltraw