Posts Tagged ‘father’

The Sublime

In the middle of the night
in a tiny well-lit kitchen
in the middle of a city
known for violence,
my father spent hours
combing my hair
looking for nits,
meticulously pulling through
the toxic shampoo.
The hours passed
with tenderness.
I was grateful then,
but could not know
how sweetly I would come to recall
his patient hands, his quiet devotion,
his exhaustion, my exhaustion,
could not know how
years later I would treasure
those dark hours
when the sirens
blared through the window glass
and hour after hour
came to pass.

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I couldn’t say why that particular hymn
made me cry—not that I am averse
to weeping—but when love broke me open
with hot, relentless tears,
my daughter beside me reached
to hold my hand and leaned into me
and I bloomed into wild gratefulness.
Grief comes with its arms full of blessings.
I am not grateful for the loss,
but there is so much beauty in how the world
rises up to hold us—cradles us with kindness,
cradles us with song. There is so much good
in how grief asks us to be tender with each other—
teaches us to reach, to offer comfort,
to receive comfort, to connect.
In a world where we crave beauty,
we learn we are beauty,
our every word, our every touch
a building block that makes the world.

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We gather at my brother’s home
and his wife has ordered 57 duck calls.
They were not in time for the party,
but when we arrive to find them
on the front stoop, immediately
we open the box and almost a dozen adults
begin blowing on the duck calls—
not just once or twice,
but for twenty minutes
we make rising calls, falling calls,
sharp quick staccato calls,
calls to the beat of Bridge Over the River Kwai.
It is loud and raucous and somewhere
in heaven, my father I am sure
was blowing, too, and giggling
until tears ran down his cheeks
and he rubbed his wet eyes with his fists.
There were tears today, sobs, even,
but my god tonight how we laughed
as we made the sound my father loved—
the sound to call in the birds.
How it called in his memory, startling
and alive—how I felt him wing in—
not sure if the tears on my cheeks
were his or mine.

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I don’t sing Happy Birthday tonight
when I light the candle,
but I say his name and celebrate
the life of the man born this day
seventy-eight years ago in Joliet, Illinois,
the man who brought ingenuity,
courage and silliness to the world,
the man who told my mother everyday
she was beautiful, the man who
believed in hiring people more talented than he,
the man who flew home to be at my concerts,
the man who drove me to piano lessons,
the man who wept when I moved away.
My own life is a celebration of his life—
he lives inside every word, every action,
every patience, every plan.
Every day since his death, I light a candle.
Every day, I celebrate his life.
Every day, my father still shines.

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Perhaps you listen again and again
to his favorite song. Maybe you look
at photos of him and remember
birthdays and Tuesdays and boat trips
and snuggling on the couch.
Maybe you reach out to touch his head,
miss the soft fuzz of his buzz cut.
You might light a candle and say his name
as you have nearly every day since he died.
Of course, he loved “What a Wonderful World.”
And the world is wonderful, though damn,
what you wouldn’t give to hear him
say your name or your nickname,
to hear the sunshine in his voice—
how it touches your heart like sunrise on water.
You might walk out into the night
and converse with the stars as if he were listening.
Maybe you feel the strangest infusion of love,
as if your arms are tingling
and your chest is tingling
and you can’t explain it
but your whole body’s humming.
Perhaps you cry, but there is no way to know
what percentage of the tears is sadness
and what percentage is gratitude.
Perhaps you think of all the other daughters and sons
who have lost their fathers
and you open your heart to their loss.
You decide, again, to honor him
by living a life he’d be proud of.
Your father, perhaps you think
of the last day you saw him alive,
how he lifted his hands,
his eyes tracking something you couldn’t see.
Perhaps you practice remembering him—
his laughter, his fury, his advice, his silence—
and you notice how, each time you practice,
he is so close to you, as close as breath.

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I count all the Tuesdays, Thursdays
and Saturdays from January to mid-July,
all those days in Florida
when you drove an hour
to dialysis and sat there for hours
as the machines removed toxins
and water from your blood,
then drove an hour home.
I multiply that number times
the number of miles and arrive
at a number that means devotion.
Means grit. A number that means
I will live for you as long as I am able.
Remember, Dad, how no matter
how early you had to rise,
no matter how difficult the drive,
no matter how inefficient the process,
you did it. And every time
you thanked the people
who were keeping you alive.
At the end, when you couldn’t stand,
couldn’t sit, couldn’t lift your own arm,
they took you to dialysis on a stretcher.
When they’d move you,
you’d moan in pain, howl, even,
as they twisted your body
in ways it no longer could twist,
and then, with deep humility,
you’d thank the nurses.
Did you ever see them cry, Dad?
I did. I saw them walk out of the room
into the hall and weep,
so grateful to be thanked
for doing the work that hurts.
Two thousand nine hundred ninety miles.
That was the number for six months.
A number that means life is hard and I want it.
A number that says my body is stopping,
but my love grows.
A number that means, Yes, I will meet you, death.
Butnot yet. Not yet.

PS–I want to honor that my mom drove my dad many of these times, and many other times in other cities–and she, in such courageous, humble ways, was devoted to dad’s health and healing.

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Walking 5th Avenue

I am again fifteen
with my father,
my first trip to New York,
and he is not yet
in life-changing pain,
and we stare
in store windows,
eat street pretzels
and look for sales racks.
I don’t know yet
how he will hurt
too much to walk,
how even standing
will become impossible.
No, in this memory
we are walking
and laughing
as if we will forever,
as if there won’t
be a morning
when I wake in New York
almost four decades later
and reach to call him
and thank him
for that long ago trip,
only to remember
he can no longer
answer the phone.
All day, I hear his laughter
as I walk. All day,
I feel his hand
reaching for mine.

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In the moments after
my father died
I slid next to him on the bed,
and though I held
the anchor of his body,
still warm, I felt untethered
from above and below—
felt the loss of my father
and the loss of my son—
and knew myself adrift alone.

For a long time, I lie there,
too loose, too free,
alone, alone, alone,
and a tender voice
I have heard before
said, Oh sweetheart,
did you forget?

I knew what it meant—
did I forget love would meet me
anywhere I am? And love
showed me in that moment
an infinite sea and said,
Sweetheart, it’s true,
you’re alone. It’s always been true.
And the only thing
that will ever ground you
is not the object of love,
but love itself.

And there in those infinite waters
love baptized me as its own.
No horizon in sight.
And I am not alone.

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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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