No father
no love
wondering if I matter
seeing my friends with their daddies
listening to classmates talk about their dads
how he took them to restaurants
and shopping malls
and told a boy something, defending his little girl

I’m lucky enough to remember him
his hugs
I mean, I think they’re memories
either that or dreams
I remember playing Hide and Seek
with my dad and my sister
my dad and I hid in the bathtub
I couldn’t stop talking and laughing
so the game didn’t last long

My dad, to his daughters and family,
a big-hearted man
To others, a scary, tough criminal
tall, slim, bald, glasses, mustache
silhouettes of girls and gang signs inked into his arms and chest
In Corcoran State Prison,
Locked up since 2003
When I was four and my sister seven
Hearing about him getting out next year
or maybe the next
But I’ve been fed those rumors as far back as I can recall
Who knows when he’ll be out?

I’ve heard so many stories
He’s in for slanging drugs
for running from the cops
for violating his probation
I’ve never known the truth

I remember waking at 4 a.m. to visit him in prison
a four-hour drive to the middle of Nowhere, California
trees, plants, trains, abandoned houses
motels whose names I’d never heard of
staring out the window, no clue where I was
trying to sleep in the car
but too much on my mind for that to work

Standing outside the facility in the cold
trying to stay warm by hugging my aunt
who drove my cousins and me upstate

Prison guards
treating us somewhere between rude and disrespectful
all I want is to see my father

Waiting to hear, “De La Mora, Mike.”
passing through a metal detector,
being patted down
filling out forms
told what I can and cannot wear
no blue
no red
no designer clothes
no hoodies
no tight blouses
no short skirts
not too many layers of clothing
wireless bras only
Might as well go in naked
I never know what to wear
They always find something wrong
to give you a hard time
And steal away precious minutes from the visit

Then squished into a bus that creeks and lurches uphill from station to station
dropping off visitors here
a few more there
Scared to make a wrong move, say the wrong thing

Makes me feel like I’m a criminal,
not someone’s daughter
who only wanted to be daddy’s little girl
for an hour or two
on a Sunday afternoon

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