My Father's Lunch Box

His black lunch box had two flip-up latches, and a silver handle

along its curved top. A small thermos

always hung on a wire rack above

two sandwiches in waxed paper.

He carried it cradled under

his arm against the faded blue

of his shirt, and he'd often say,

``Son, you'll never have a thing as

long as you carry one of these.''

He spoke with a sadness in his

voice. He never liked school and dropped

out - played baseball, golf, and boxed -

playing to stay independent,

but never quite making the pros,

or going back to school. Always,

the regrets, the compensations

after the opportunities past,

and the snows got deeper, deeper

than he had ever expected.

When he died his lunch box slid off

the pantry shelf and barked like a

dog whetting its claws in damp grass.

It followed me to school, groaning

at my feet, unused to the smell

of books and oiled floors, typical

then at the university.

It yawned, snapping its catches open

and shut in Indian summer

and on those first warm days of spring.

It disappeared for months during

graduate school. When I read Keats

aloud it slunk behind the house.

I read Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge,

Milton, Shakespeare, John Stuart Mill;

it began to sleep more and more,

waking up emaciated

and cranky at exam times.

It never liked pondering things,

or the dull drone of rhetoric.

It lives down in the basement now,

but sits well in my pickup truck

and likes driving in the country.

It's funny how often lately

it creeps up the stairs and wants out.

I crack the basement door for some

trifling reason and there it

sits, its handle cocked on one hinge,

unrusted after twenty years

and more. I should throw it away.

But some things are not easily

discarded. Late at night, marking

papers, I hear its top open

and bang shut; and mornings as I

slip on my coat, cinch up my tie,

and think about the days ahead,

and remember him going to work

and his warning, I hear again

its handle chafing against wire

hinges - always fighting a leash.

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