Night and Day
Susan Mahan
November 2001


My father wore pressed white shirts and bow ties.
He buffed his leather shoes to a high shine.
He was serious, thoughtful and polite,
drawing on his pipe to consider his words.
Dad wouldn't say horseshit
if he was standing in a pile of it.

My grandfather had the deepest dimples and a twinkle in his eye.
He chewed tobacco and kept a spit jar in his pocket.
Sometimes Papa Matt wore his pajamas
the whole time we were there.
Nana was always mad at him and giving him a look.
Papa Matt had a raspy Irish brogue,
and he cackled at his own stories.
His speech was peppered with occasional curses
and words like hoodwink and malarky.

Dad bought my sisters and me valentines every year,
signing Love, Dad in his meticulous left-handed cursive.
He told us stories about World War II on our daytime walks
and Aesop's fables at bedtime.
He taught me that life was tough sometimes,
but that you could get through it if you did the right thing.
My little sister said his stories were boring,
and she didn't understand
what "slow and steady wins the race" meant.

Sometimes I forgot what Dad was talking about
if he paused too long in thought,
but I had decided that my father and I were tortoises.
My sister was a hare.


Papa Matt thought it was important to pay attention
and to keep the upper hand.
His standing advice was to
answer the door with a hat and coat on.
If it was someone you liked,
you could say you had just gotten home;
if not, you could say you were on your way out.

Papa Matt taught me to be skeptical.

Dad taught me to believe.