Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fathers & poems

Happy Father's Day! The subject of the relationship to a father has been a rich source in poetry. Today I'm missing my complicated, troublesome, creative, and vibrant father, who died a year and a half ago. My faovrite last memories of him:

At the Easel with Alzheimer's

My father is painting in the basement: blue,
green, yellow. The cinderblock wall’s white-
wash is tanned with dust and the ocean view
obscured by a flapping sheet of vinyl. It fights

the wind. He says he's inspired to blue. My phone call
came to his studio and I was greeted: I know you.
You’re the pharmacist, right? The pall
on his memory has not dimmed his bad taste

in jokes or how at the easel he’s always affable
over the scribble of boar’s bristle, the give
of canvas to brush. I skip over laughable
lapses, as when he asks me where I live

and then pretends he was kidding. Name-
dropping, his mind grows patches, nicks
and spores like the salt on his aluminum
windows that will eventually make them stick.

Painting down there, his panes always closed
to keep it warm and dry, not a hint of sea
outside. What are you working on? His nose
nearly on the canvas, he can only say,

It’s getting better, going somewhere. It’s green,
blue, and not as grim as it sounds. His brain
grows lacy and colors squirm like the skeins
of yarn above the basement washing machine.

I’m frightened of how much he forgets,
this new breeze that unzips our history,
but I say, Don’t fight the wind. Be a net.
Catch the world by letting the knots slip.

- first appeared in Fringe Magazine

Here's another father poem I love:

Those Winter Sundays
By Robert Hayden 1913–1980

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?