Portrait of my father in the early morning, refusing bribes

Because he was a small man,
he liked to keep a bit of steel
close to him: in one pocket,

a metal nail file, a folding scissors,
a penknife. In the other, creased
and laminated Novenas to Saint

Pancratius and The Little Jesus
of Prague. On rising, he liked to sit
quiet by the window, eyes closed;

without arthritis perhaps he
might have knelt on the floor
by the bed. Because he was a man

of steady habit, the household knew
the moment he was done with his bath,
before he sat for the first pour

of coffee or tea. That’s when they’d knock
on the door— offering sums, a “trade”
in goods or favors, reversal of decisions

he’d penned to send someone’s relative
or business partner to jail, or exact
a fine. He knew their intentions

and never let them cross the threshold;
had them wait on the porch as he gathered
his robe closer around him then stepped

out to give them a lecture on the law:
voice unwavering even as one fist closed
around the amulets buried in his pockets.

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