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Missing My Father



When you miss him, look inside.
            —Deb Stevens, private correspondence


Today when I miss my father,
I hear him in my voice when I say,
You’ll go broke saving money.
I feel his tenderness in the way
I hold my own daughter’s hand.
His laugh blooms inside my laugh
when I giggle hee hee hee.
Here he is, ever inside me.
Returning home from his death,
I feel transformed,
or is it I feel more me—
the me he helped to shape
with his life, the me
he is fashioning with his death,
the me I’m still learning how to be.

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Leaning All the Way In

If I let it be,
grief is a chair
that supports me
when I crumple.
It requires
nothing of me
except that I give it
all my weight.
Limp, I sink in,
and it doesn’t ask me
to try to pretend
I could rise.
It lets me wet leaf.
It lets me empty room.
It lets me vast sky of gray.
It holds me.
I lean in.
I nothing for a time.
I slow ache.
And grief says
yes to me.

*


oh friends, my father took his last breath this morning just after 5 a.m. he was loving and full of gratitude and
positive and warm till the end. I thank you for all the kind messages I have received–if I do not write you back, please know that I do read every message and thank you by name. I am so grateful for your support. I know the poems have been a fairly relentless chapter of grief–and love. And love. I have never been more in love with the world, even now, especially now. 

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One Last Night

 
his breathing shallow
still he laughs, says I love you—
this bright falling star

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On the day my father begins hospice,
I watch the pronghorn in the field,
marvel as their brown- and white-striped bodies
nearly disappear in the dead grass where
they graze. If only I could camouflage
my father so death can’t find him, so that pain
would never have discovered him.
Tomorrow, my mother and brother and I
will gather around him the way a herd
might gather, circling him as some antelope
circle their young. But death will come.
And we, unable to run fast enough,
unable to hide, will meet it together.
And if I could fight death, would I? Whatever horns
I have are more for ritual than dangerous.
When death arrives, I want to bring
my softest self. I won’t bargain,
but I’ll tell death it’s taking the best of us—
the one who worked hardest to survive.
When death arrives, I want to ask it, Please,
be gentle. He suffered so much already.
I want to tell death, You don’t get all of him.
I carry in me his goodness, his courage.
While I live, he will always be alive in this field.

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Happy Birthday Dad!


Into the boxes I slip
my father’s birth certificate,
his high school yearbooks,
his wedding album,
and the diploma for his PhD.
I fold waders and coats,
pack saws and hammers,
wires and electrical things
I can’t name—but he can.
I pack journals filled with notes
of his favorite trips,
crossbow arrows
and feathers for tying flies.
But a life doesn’t fit in boxes.
No way to pack his glittering eyes,
his quick smile, the way he laughs
in recognition as I hold up
an old favorite knife.
No way to pack the hard years,
the wrestling with pain,
his drive to show up anyway,
day after day,
determined to bring his best
to the world, determined
to love life outside
the box.

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reminds me of the day
my dad held me
in front of him
while riding his bike
and fifty years later,
I remember most
the moments before
the bite of the spokes
when we were laughing
in the muggy Wisconsin June,
the sky dark with rain,
the joy of being held by him,
the thrill of going fast,
the wind in our faces.
I remember most
how he picked me up
as I cried and carried me
as if I were precious.
Fifty years later,
though he is the one
in pain, he still picks me up
and carries me every time
we speak. Thousands
of miles away, he holds
me close.

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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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Small Things

Small things aren’t just important,

says my father. They’re everything.

And I think of how,

night after night, he’d lie

on his back on the floor

and bench press me

as I stood with one foot

in each of his hands.

Years later, every morning

he’d lift me with a phone call—

This is the Broadmoor. This is your

morning wake up call.

He’d say it in his snootiest,

haughtiest British butler voice.

And years later,

when we hold hands

he rubs his thumb across my thumb,

a small, familiar gesture of love.

Now, wishing I could hold

his hand while we sit

in different rooms together

a thousand miles away,

I can almost feel

the pad of his thumb

move across my knuckles

the way wind moves over water

and creates the weather.

It lifts me.

It’s everything.

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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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Lights Out

 

 

We would be tucked into our twin beds,

and dad would sit in the door way.

Every night, he’d tell us a story about a boy

and a girl who were very much

like my brother and me, only they lived

amongst the dinosaurs. I don’t remember

how the stories went, but I remember

how I loved them, how my father’s voice

became part of the night, how everything

always turned out right for the kids

in the story. How much I wanted

to be that girl who rode on a pterodactyl,

and how grateful I felt to be the girl I was,

snug under the thin blue blanket,

our small room a cave where anything

could happen, the low tones of my father

quietly cradling me toward sleep.

 

 

 

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