Critical Thought: Pow

My father, trained as a journalist, was a writer of formidable imagination. Throughout our shared years, he wrote letters to me in which he envisioned the lives I might live. In one, I could be a naval intelligence operative cracking an adversary's code; in another, an international businessman closing brilliant deals in Paris or Kuala Lumpur; and in yet another, a professional interpreter for the United Nations who has mastered Chopin on the piano and has a mean tennis serve. These letters came in a steady procession, sometimes as many as five in a day. Reading them, I felt like someone in a fun house hall of mirrors who keeps walking into the glass. I rarely replied, and then only to report on my schoolwork, the weather, and other news. Once, in a fit of adolescent vexation, I threw away about five years' worth. I don't wish them back. I do wish, though, that he and I had visited on our travels together—he was also a redoubtable traveler—the painted caves at Lascaux or Altamira when it was still possible to enter them.

Mark Seidl loves New York's Hudson Valley, where he lives and works as a special collections librarian, but he wishes the region had more dogwood trees. His work has appeared in several online and print journals, most recently The Bakery, Burnside Review, and YB.

Pow

I grew up in a family that lived in caves. My father did all the decorating. He painted animals—black antelope, umber elk & mammoth. He molded their shapes over the rock's dips & ridges, so in the flickering firelight they seemed to breathe & trail shadows over a flinty plain. Whatever he painted was the meat he lugged home after a hunt for supper. Once he painted my portrait. A bulge in the rock swelled my jaw. Like someone punched me, I said. He smiled. His fist extended in a long, leisurely hook. When his knuckles connected with my chin, my head twisted around in slow-motion recoil. His lips popped softly—pow!


by Mark Seidl