John Warner Smith

Hand Fan

My natural father and I had no relationship. 
When my mother got pregnant
at 15, he married her, then
enlisted in the Army,
hoping the farm girl and her baby
would somehow disappear.
By the time he returned, we had.
The most he ever said to me:
a letter praising my manhood,
expressing his regrets,
sent fifteen years before he died.

When he died, his body arrived
at the church an hour late. 
The funeral director, a Rick James
look-alike, wet fake braids,
sequined skin-tight suit and all,
said the hearse had needed washing.

My aunt Nola, 85, a devout Catholic,
still driving, smoking and playing the slots,
sat behind me at the funeral service,
up front in the amen, help-me-Jesus pews,
where mourners hollered and swooned
when the choir sang Amazing Grace. 

Her hand fan, vintage cardboards
worn thin, edges bent and torn,
loosely tacked to a thin wooden stick,
flapped left to right, right to left,
pulling and pushing a soft breeze.
On one side, the mortuary’s seal,
on the other, a hand-sketched portrait
of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Damn shame,” she stiffly muttered,
leaning over my shoulder. 
“That preacher know damn well
your daddy wasn’t that good.”