[2-minute read, tops]
I was subtly slain by a friend’s quick response to an end-of-July piece I wrote for a trio of birthdays: one was my big brother’s, which immediately followed that of a sorely missed coach and friend, which in turn was the day after the anniversary of my long-dead father’s entry into the world in 1911. My buddy Buck had known them all, for nearly as long as he’s known me, and he was especially moved by the paragraphs about my Dad. He slipped a dagger between my ribs with one brief, benign sentence: “In the years I’ve known you, you’ve never spoken about him.”
Really? Come on! That can’t possibly be true, forgetful and faithful friend! I said to myself, or sin-covering words to that useless effect. Of course, the absolute truth of the thing doesn’t matter a bit, and besides, in that same piece I did confess that, other than oblique and occasional references, I had never written about my father in the fog-bound annals of my Blogdom.
But as a kid – and, incidentally, inspired back then by teenaged forays into poetry that buddy Buck had startled me awake by making – I did write some rarely shared, bemused poems about my Dad. They were clumsy, but had a good heart. I reworked them 17 years later, and they were read by, I believe, three or four people other than me. Prompted by the point of Buck’s gentle stiletto, I took another look at them, and now have officially pronounced them Not Awful. I decided to give them a little air.
I couldn’t help playing with them a bit, but here are two poems about a Dad, mine – businessman, father of five, steadfast husband, demon-fighter, melancholic, man of principle and provision – nearly 40 years gone and still a mystery to me.
Not His Father
The lonely boy slumps in a chair
Waiting for his father to come home.
The old man with the white hair and the wooden leg
is not his father.
Or his grandfather.
The waiting boy sips his Coke
and munches potato chips.
It would be nice, he whispers, to live in
such a fine house
and have such fine things.
The silent boy sidles past the old man’s reverie.
Well, there you are, he thinks.
Cheek on palm, elbow on the coffee table,
The old man has his eyes closed.
Maybe he is asleep.
Maybe he just wishes he was.
It occurs to me that you weren’t ready for this but
I watched your eyes empty and
I annotated every stumble.
According to my files
Your self-respect was leaking and
Your dreams were a drain.
In the matter of your death
The assembled witnesses were judicious:
There was no need to call me on the evening in question
Since the outcome was evident and
They had the situation well under control.
Further to our previous statements
And perhaps more to the point:
I had been watching you die for years notwithstanding
That it was clear I would never be an old man
Just like you.