Daniel McGinn

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The Weight of Dreams

I hear my father sleeping sometimes when 
his breathing is loud and persistent and 
I’m in the next room at the computer. 

The night is a good time to write. The cars 
have gone to sleep and darkness presses
it’s cold face against the windows. 

My father talks in his sleep while I’m writing.
I can’t understand what he is saying. I know by
his tone of voice when his mother kisses him and

lights the birthday party candles. Coins she hid
in the cake mix, shine like silver stars.
Once my wife heard him thank Jesus and tell him

that he hasn’t forgotten. Sometimes his dreams float 
on saltwater when he’s back in the South Pacific 
which is almost every night. He’s in the best shape 

of his life, playing poker and rolling bones on the 
deck of the USS Cacapon.  He might be walking the 
catwalk during the storm that not everyone survived, 

or watching a torpedo come directly at him, the one 
that sunk just before it reached the ship and killed 
everyone. It keeps coming back when he dreams. 

So does the kamikaze pilot who ejected just before 
his plane overshot the ship. His body crashed into the 
deck right next to my father who was sitting on the 

turret shooting him out of the sky. Sometimes 
my father sleeps in his bunk down below. Sometimes 
the water is full of blood and oil and body parts. 

Once he saw a pilot land in that water right next to
his ship. There was smoke coming off of a wing. 
The lifeboat was dropped and the pilot looked at my Dad 

and smiled because he made it. He was still smiling 
when his plane exploded and that’s the hardest part 
of the story. My father never gave this a second thought 

during the war but the pilot started coming back, still 
alive in my father’s dream. The man died with a smile 
on his face. He died and he dies again. 

I usually wake up when my father wakes and wobbles off 
to the restroom with his cane which sounds like a peg leg 
when it hits the wooden floor. I think of Captain Hook 

and Peter Pan, both alive in the same body. My dad sits 
on the toilet with a long sample of toilet paper draped 
across his lap. He pets the paper as if it were a cat. 

If he falls asleep again, I have to wake him up. I can’t get 
my father to take a walk with no purpose. He doesn’t 
like to walk. He does know he has to hike through the 

kitchen, out the back door, and down the sidewalk to 
touch the gate before I’ll get his morning coffee. Sometimes 
as we walk, he starts to sing a song he learned in boot camp: 

you had a good home but you left it,
you had a good home but you left it,
sound off one-two, sound off one-two-three-four.

If the sun is up and it’s warm enough, he sits on the patio 
with the morning paper. He reads it every day from cover
to cover, but he can’t remember a thing he just read. 

The Lockdown

It's Christmas week in the Pre-K special needs class.
Many of these kids are nonverbal. We’re practicing
the Christmas show they will perform for their parents.
The students are learning to shake the jingle bells

they wear on Velcro bracelets as they point up
at imaginary candy canes in the imaginary Christmas tree.
They mimic shaking a tree trunk. As each candy cane drops
to the ground, they sign how the candy canes all fall down.

That’s what we’re doing when we get the call on the day
before winter break. It’s a lockdown. We stop everything
and silently herd the children into a corner away
from the window and door. An aide pulls the curtains closed 

another turns the deadbolt on the door to the trailer classroom.
That’s just a gesture. It's not much protection
against an active shooter in military hardware. 
We're supposed to remain quiet now.

One student sucks his fingers and coos. Another begins 
squealing and making happy noises. Although most of these 
students are non-verbal, it's not easy to be silent and sit 
in a corner at this age. Thankfully, they're still too young 

to be taught the fear that older students are learning 
from this exercise. As educators, we’ve been instructed 
to make sure nobody says a word. We are all supposed to 
just sit there, shut up, and do nothing.


Daniel McGinn is an old man who competed in the nationals as a member of the 1995 Los Angeles Slam team. His work has appeared in The MacGuffin, Nerve Cowboy, SurVision, Spillway, and The OC Weekly along with numerous other magazines and anthologies. His most recent chapbook, Drowning the Boy, won the James Tate Poetry Prize for 2021 and was published by SurVision Magazine in Dublin Ireland.