My daddy worked as a shipping manager, packing
train cars with odd-sized boxes of furniture.
He filled every speck of space, arranging
the cartons like shapes in a puzzle cube.
Daddy could stuff a pregnant cat into a shoe box
if need be and bury her neatly in the ground,
lined up with the other cats and kittens.
Every year, we drove to the beach from the
North Carolina foothills to stay for a week
in one motel room. We used one suitcase for
the five of us: Daddy, Mama, my older sisters, me.
Swimsuits and panties were squeezed into nooks
left by Daddy’s Bermuda shorts and white t-shirts,
his belts, his cartons of cigarettes, his flask.
He strapped the suitcase to the top of our gold
station wagon alongside a box perfectly packed
with plastic buckets, blow-up floats, boxes
of cereal, jars of peanut butter, white bread.
The summer I was twelve and my sisters
were in college, Daddy helped me learn to pack
so light that all I took to my grandmother’s house
were the clothes I wore and my flute if I could
grab it and run from him before his rage caught
me and Mama locking ourselves in the car.
I left behind the things I could make do without:
my cat and her kittens, books, clean underwear.
Daddy hid his cases of beer and whiskey in the back
of the station wagon until after sundown,
sneaking them into the house during the night.
The church folk driving past and the neighbors
peering out their windows would not see.
All was packed into darkness and sealed like lips.