Ellen Kombiyil

After the Party


& still I imagine Daddy beyond the locked door
of a house fire-blackened before I was born.
He cautioned, “Never drive alone.”
“Boys will chase you, even run you off the road.”
Ma nodded, solemn as smoke.
“These things happen.”
The garden didn’t burn.
Still the balustrade stood, sickly in moonlight
like bowling pins waiting to be struck.
“Don’t invite envy,” was another thing Daddy said,
which is different from kindness.


It was her friend’s party
where fireflies flirted
in the open & Ma jigged
the wood floor, loose
boards bent, some nails
popped, Daddy lit
to explode.
“It’s not proper,”
he shouted & left
to brood in bed,
waited up stroking his rifle.


Was it me he meant to scold, the way eyes-down
mouths-shut gets shuttled through generations
until one night street-parked & waiting for the buzz
to wear off, I ask my vivacious friend,
“What’s the nature of love?”
“Does it get inherited?”
I asked to feel less alone.
Then the sun rose over Lake Michigan, without warning
or splendor. On the way home, her Thunderbird quit
& strangers ferried gas from the Sunoco,
my wallet with only a nickel in it.


Ma huffed
when she got home, Daddy
quiet on the couch
with the lights darked out
like it was a surprise he meant
to give her, his breath
a lake’s lifting fog
at daybreak, his breath
heat ticking off
a corroded kitchen clog
till cracked pipes blew.


The engine cut & we coasted down the slope,
belted bodies afloat
at the dip, then we blared
through a red light at the intersection.
Daddy in the living room
pretended he slept, set traps.
“Enough!” he shouted
clattering the lamp
handed down from Great Aunt Blanche—
it couldn’t help but teeter & crash—
which is different from running on fumes.

Ellen Kombiyil teaches creative writing and composition at Hunter College. She is the author of Histories of the Future Perfect (2015) and the micro chapbook Avalanche Tunnel (2016).

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Fall 2021