Sunday Poem

The Tip

Just days before the crash
that killed him, my father
lost the tip of his index finger
while working on the same vehicle
that would take him away.

I recall my mother’s scream
that brought me out of Mann’s
The Magic Mountain,
and to the concrete drive
now sprinkled in crimson.
His stunned look
is what has stayed with me.
Shock that part of him could take leave
without permission or warning?
He was a man who hated surprises,
who lined his clothes and shoes
like a platoon he inspected daily,
and taught us to suspect the future. His
was the stranger in a strange land’s fear
of not knowing, and not having.

After the doctor snipped the ragged end
of joint and skin like a cigar
and stitched it closed, my father
stared transfixed at the decapitated
finger, as if it had a message for him.
As if he suspected this small betrayal
of his body was just the tip
of chaos rising.

by Judith Ortiz Cofer
from El Coro
University of Massachusetts Press, 1997