rocket scientist

rocket scientist
a poem by Yuri Kageyama

people sometimes laugh when they learn
my father was a rocket scientist
my father was also a child-beater
this is not a laughing matter
people think abusers are alcoholic degenerates,
unemployed high-school dropouts or drug addicts
who swing their wives around the room
clutching their hair and beating them
and beat the kid while at it
but my father needed to get violent because
he was under stress on his job
he worked for the Apollo program
you know the one when Armstrong the astronaut talks about
the one giant leap for mankind
he was one of the first Japanese who got to work for NASA
that’s why I have a bit of a Southern accent
when I say words like: “you all” or “Alabama” or “NASA”
his office was at the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama
everyone in my school worked for the military or for NASA
we still have an autographed photo of von Braun
when we got back to Japan,
he was on TV to talk about our trip to the moon
I wasn’t that proud but my mother was proud
I was more scared about saying the wrong thing and setting him off
it was mysterious _ I never figured it out
one moment, he was joking, so witty and sharp
just like a rocket scientist
a jolly roly-poly guy
but he would change
and I would feel a fat whack against my head
it would get so infinitely dark before my eyes
inside my cavernous buzzing head
like I was swimming and spinning into outer space
and I would see tiny sparkling stars
he didn’t drink or do drugs
he was a rocket scientist
when I got older and got the nerve
I asked him why he had done that
what was he thinking?
I wanted to know
and he said he didn’t know
he helped us get to the moon but
the rocket scientist didn’t know
he couldn’t remember why he hit me at all