I wanted bad to advance to Washington, D. C.
I wanted to be anyone but me.
The nun who had trained me for the spelling bee
needed a ride, and I was so worried all the way across town
that my dad would start swearing in front of her,
I couldn't really think straight, so when
I got to the tie-breaking round with a Central Catholic boy
in an argyle sweater, I nearly tripped on the way to the mic.
"Hoo-ist," the word-distributor announced.
I couldn't hear, could never hear, so I asked him to repeat.
"Hoo-ist," he said again. I took a stab at it and spelled it
H-U-I-S-T, and the man in the toupee shook his head
and turned to Chip, who whipped out, "Whist.
W-H-I-S-T. Whist." He smiled before the judge said yes,
because of course that was the word--whist! whist!--
what on earth had I been thinking?
It was quiet as we drove over the West End Bridge.
I couldn't wait to drop off Sister Simon
so I wouldn't have to simmer in the back seat
with my mother, both of us praying he wouldn't break into
his grating vernacular. "She spells a lot better than me,"
he told Sister. "But all I write is police reports,
and spelling don't matter." She cocked her head
as if he were discoursing on John of the Cross.
Now I stand above the city. There's a murky line
where two rivers form the Ohio, as if at first
reluctant to be mixed. And where my father's gone
might just as well be called the delta. I see him now,
in red-black light, a pen in his mouth, clipboard on his lap,
asking his partner if "domestic" is spelled with a "ck";
the guy in the back puts his face against the cage
and says, "no dickhead, P-I-G. You get that down?"