Doing Time

Sunday evening Mom and Dad unwind on the couch,
her full black hair lays against Dad’s shoulder.
The iconic stopwatch fills the screen, the second hand
sweeps north, folding its final ticks into silence.

Dad takes his cue and rises to the mantle.
Caressing the aged pine, his hand cradles the clock.
Its tired pendulum arcs as it has
since that bygone Christmas morn of my youth.

Each beat of its cadence swings from virtue to darkness.
On one end, the pendulum hangs weightless at the apex
like a child on a swing, that still moment
on top of the world, free of wind and sound . . .

          One family dinner on the deck as
          we watch our cat, Lizzy, in the sprawling tree
          scamper toward us on an ever smaller branch.
          The branch defers, bowing under her weight.

          With a nimble leap to the rail, she joins us.
          Ricky scoops her up, hugs her with a squeeze.
          We cheer this dance of cat and boy.

. . . before the gravity of shrouded betrayal and
sweaty fear pull me downward
into the shadows of the night.

          The dull glow of the computer screen
          glazes my eyes, grays my face like the full moon,
          a similar mythical trance distorting me
          into the beast I didn’t want to be.

          Like wolves and other cunning creatures,
          my ears are alert to any sound,
          perhaps a foot creaking the hallway boards
          or the twisting of a doorknob. I hear . . .

Tick . . . tock . . . tick . . . tock

My father opens the clock faces and exposes
my hands, my gears, my swinging pendulum.
Each furtive pass bleeds my energy, my will.

          Dad, I’m exhausted. I can’t do this anymore.

Yet, like the thousand times before,
he snaps the steel key into place and twists,
tightening the coils once again.

          I know, my son. Let me help you.

With a click, Dad shuts the door and turns back.
Sinking into the worn couch, he takes my mother’s hand
while I remain in my imprisoned night doing time.