The Bindery

Chris Siteman


In the photo I’m seven. It’s Saturday, & my father sits beside me on the steps
     at Lake Fire Road.
I smell his salt skin, Old Spice, a Winston burning low. On his arm, Ajax tattooed
in gothic script. Two pupils pierce the smoke—

Darkness even shadows couldn’t escape.
You hear people talk about climbing walls—
I climbed walls.

To taste ink & sweat brings back the noon whistle, the porch railing I think I
     clutched for years
as a seven-year-old. His cracked lips smile, speak the wish he could take back
his blood & sweat: I lived to die in debt.



The boy held the gun, crying at the all too real mess heads made.
Cars arrived, blues flashing, tires crunching the gravel drive—


Who fathered the man who fathered me? Whispering close to my face
     about smashmouth
basketball games on concrete courts, his razor-wire irises froze my soul.


Part of me believes my father incapable of killing. Another part believes he
     turned the gun
against himself, wrote his blood name on that wall, a Gorgon’s head, a
     mirror & trophy
for the man whose stains even mighty AJAX couldn’t bleach out.



The Bit O’ Honey my father & I shared on that car ride to the city remains
the sun’s warmth on my legs, each sliver a Saturday morning to carry with me.

Steel drums, inks & acids, concrete, fluorescent lights, presses, cutters, folders,
hydraulic skids, pallets of paper—

We played guns with rubber bands long as my seven-year-old arms. Our
     laughter rang
like shrieks from the gulls we threw pizza crusts to
out the window, & they'd catch & swoop—

Feathers snapping, fluttering, tucked into air, beaks arrowing, falling stares—
Pure vertigo in shafts of light, hung there,
then darted from sight.



At lunch the pressmen & cutters let me be, but one day want me to come
     to where the windows
overlook the dormitories at MIT.

Part of me believes they knew we could see. Another part believes they didn’t care,
or liked to be watched.

All us workers lined the windows eating & staring from an entire world away.

Those beautiful young girls, even if they knew they were beautiful, never knew
how beautiful they were to us on break from machines demanding
     we be machines.



My father liked playing the girl in the children’s poem that kept picking her nose
until the razor-toothed monster in her nostril bit the top digit off.

Weeks after the bandages, the nub still looked like bone
pushing through, & he’d pretend to pick, then pull
his chopped pinky out with an Ouch!

Our bodies jiggled with laughter, but when I asked what happened, his brow
tensed, he spoke very close to my face: I told you, a monster lives up there—



My father killed himself so slowly no one noticed. So, he kept living,
at holidays still scarfs second servings of turkey. I bear witness—

He sweat & bled to pay our rent, never bitched about eating dogs & beans,
read Tom Clancy on the can & died a prisoner to a factory clock.

His gravel voice whispered bones, whispered blood. His hands wore ink
     stains. He lived
a child of metaphor, offspring of inmates & guards.

In the end my father earned the grave he sought, & knows no need of these



Down to the side like the razor-edge on a book-cutter’s blade, I remember
     growing up
with my father on Lake Fire Road, & my face shows me his face.

Seventy hours a week he labored as a bookbinder, & lost parts unsaveable
by surgeons with a hundred texts on suture.

When we wrestled he’d rear on his knees like a bear & roar, tickling
until we thrashed, too speechless to beg him to stop.

Now, my best hopes set the machinery of mills & presses in motion—
Betrayal & gift sending men like him to their bindery.

Born in Boston, Chris Siteman grew up in a blue collar, predominantly Irish-Catholic, family. He’s traveled widely in the US and Europe, and worked extensively in the trades. In 2007 Chris received his MFA from Emerson College. Since August of 2010 he has been pursuing his JD at Suffolk Law. He has taught in Boston University’s undergraduate writing program, Lesley University’s Humanities Department, and currently teaches in Suffolk University’s English Department. His work has most recently appeared in The Fiddleback, Borderline, Ditch Poetry, Poetry Quarterly, and The Monarch Review.