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Missing My Dad

I hate riding in boats,
the way it makes
my body want to turn
inside out, hate the way
my body rocks for hours
after I’m back on land.
But I love the way
my father’s hands
rest on the wheel,
the way his eyes
scan the waves,
the easy slope
of his shoulders.
He’s so himself,
so whole, so someone
who I’m glad to know.
Standing on shore,
I wave at his boat,
as he points it
toward the deep.
He waves back
and smiles
with great love.
There are many
kinds of oceans—
time is one.
I hate the distances
we keep.

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George of the Jungle




My father sings
and I am again
a girl being bounced
on his lap, wondering
if there really is
a jungle somewhere
where a monkey eats nails,
and why would a monkey do that,
and doesn’t it hurt?

My father is laughing,
his eyes glitter with tropical shine,
and I understand
he is traveling in a world
of imagination
and gave me
an invitation to go with him—

fifty years later,
we are still swinging
through that curious jungle,
singing, wondering
about that crazy monkey,
his strange choices,
blessing these surprising worlds
that bring us
together.

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Already he’s lived a dozen years longer

than any other man in his bloodline.

One died of malaria. The rest of heart attacks.

Not one of them knew how to show love.

Sometimes a river changes its course—

perhaps slowly, eroding over centuries.

Perhaps all at once in a mighty flush,

as after a flood or an ice-floe.

I want to ask him how change happened in him—

how the impulse toward anger

rechanneled into tenderness,

into patience, into a willingness to be vulnerable.

I want to believe the same might happen for the world—

that by tending our hearts more carefully,

we might jump the banks of what seemed possible.

We are all of us here to be changed.

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Because I cannot be there to hold my father’s hand, 

I walk into my children’s room and hold my daughter and son 

as if love in one room emits a wave strong enough  

to be felt many states away. Because I am afraid, 

I don’t try to pretend I am not. Tears run hot 

down my face and I don’t dam them.   

When they dry, I let them dry. 

Because I am helpless to fix my father’s kidneys, 

I tell him I love him, as if words could help 

filter his blood before returning it to his heart, 

his tender heart.  

Because the helicopter is flying him to Miami, 

the blades of my worry begin to spin. 

Because I can’t stop them, I turn them 

into a giant wing that carries prayers 

into the rooms where I’m not allowed to go. 

And though I’m not there, I hold his hand, 

imagine it heavy in my own. Because maybe 

he can feel it. Because I don’t want him to be alone.  

 

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I should have raised dogs.

That’s what my father always said

when I did something stupid.

Like when my friend and I were twelve

and we snuck into Raiders of the Lost Ark

with two seventeen-year old boys.

And there was dad, waiting

outside the theater looking like

exactly what he was—a rabid dad

hellbent on scaring the shit out of any boy

who might have unvirtuous thoughts

about his girl. He never said

what kind of dogs—poodles or labs

or mutts. I can just see him

walking the corridor of his kennel,

all the dogs barking. But dogs weren’t

his calling—the crates, the training,

special diets, vets. No,

he was the master of loving me

through my crazy mistakes

and my hormonal angst and my sudden refusal

to eat meat. I still smile thinking of

the way he would sit on the couch

and hold his arm open for me

to come sit beside him then snuggle.

The way he bought me a book

to decode my dreams. The way he took me

to piano lessons every Saturday

morning, then took me out for brunch

so we could talk. The way he still listens

when I’ve done something stupid

and then tells me he loves me.

Never once, despite all his lamentations,

did I think he would exchange me

for a chihuahua or beagle. No, there

was something almost sweet in his wish,

a hint of surrender in it, the sound

of his heart opening just a little bit wider

to let in the world, unleashed as it is.

 

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In the other room I hear
my father snoring
and imagine how
he’s stood before
outside my door
and listened
to my tides of sleep
with, could it be,
as much love for me
as I have now for him—
his shore is my shore,
our heart sails
open.

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