“She was looking at the window. The words sounded as if they were floating like flowers on water out there, cut off from them all, as if no one had said them, but they had come into existence of themselves. She did not know what they meant, but, like music, the words seemed to be spoken by her own voice, outside herself, saying quite easily and naturally what had been in her mind while she said different things.” ~ Virginia Woolf, from To The Lighthouse
Saturday evening. Partly cloudy and cold, 41 degrees.
I have spent most of the day on the computer, dabbling, as it were, and in between, another poem, another few lines. I am more grateful for this wellspring than I let on, too afraid of the day on which no words come, too afraid that that day will be the beginning of many more days, the beginning of years before more poems come again, if they come at all.
So I pretend on here that it’s really no big deal that I am again writing poems, downplay their appearance as mere happenstance. But you, dear reader, see through it all. Don’t you?
All the Silences I’ve Been Inclined To
“Story inclines to moment. Moment inclines to silence.” ~ Source unknown
Within the steady beat of the metronome
lies the fiction of appearances:
real time is never so evenly spaced.
It moves slowly, like a rush hour freeway,
or skips entire days in a leap,
leaving Tuesday afternoon
only to move headlong into Friday night
Four-four time is a falsehood,
a myth about common time
based on countable seconds,
but I have yet to come upon
a single late afternoon
without struggling for air
somewhere around 2 pm.
And though I might contemplate
the silences of the minutes
between midnight and dawn,
I don’t think I’ll ever really understand
how so much nothingness
can claim us abruptly
like New Year’s eve fireworks
ablaze too soon.
“Nothing’s so beautiful as the memory of it Gathering light as glass does, As glass does when the sundown is on it and darkness is still a thousand miles away.” ~ Charles Wright, from “A Journal of the Year of the Ox”
My father was almost 73 when he died on November 22, 2001. His birthday would have been on December 5.
I’ve been looking for a particular poem by Len Roberts, but the name escapes me. It’s a poem about his father. Anyway, I came across this one by David Budbill, and it reminded me of all the times my father came to my house to help me, all of the things he taught me: how to change a toilet’s working parts, how to replace an electrical socket, how to fix a leaky faucet, and far too many to recount.
And I remember all of the things that I learned from him just by watching: how to squat low and weed a garden, how to find the perfect patch of sunlight on the floor and take a nap, how to sit silently and pet a dog.
Mostly, I learned the art of being still from my father, a man who was mostly quiet, and then at times, explosive.
Father’s Day is still hard for me, especially when I go to buy cards. I still pause in front of the section of cards specifically for daughter. Occasionally I will pull one from the rack and read, but only if I have sufficiently steeled my heart before hand, which is almost never.
I have no great insights on what it is about fathers and daughters, only about my own relationship, which was alternately close and then not. I will never forget the time my father, almost in tears, asked me if I remembered the last time I had said hello to him, how in being silent myself I had not realized the cost.
My father was simultaneously generous and stingy, as am I—overly generous with love and stingy about never paying the full cost.
I still have not recovered the 1966 Ford Falcon that my father told me was to go to my sons, the car that my mother gave away after his death, as if this final punitive act would close that chapter once and for all. I will reclaim that car one day.
In the end my father was tiny, the extra six inches he claimed over five feet almost entirely withered with age and pain and illness. I would have gladly given him my inches were it possible.
In the end my father died alone and afraid, and I will never be able to let go of that, how when it mattered the most, I was not there to say hello and then goodbye.
All images by Chinese artist, Don Hong-Oai (1929-2004). There was nothing in the world that my father loved more than fishing.
Music by Billy Joel, one of my favorite oldies, “Lullabye”
Seventy-Two is Not Thirty-Five
I spent seven hours yesterday at my daughter’s house
helping her expand their garden by at least ten times.
We dug up sod by the shovelful, shook off the dirt as
best we could; sod into the wheelbarrow and off to the
pile at the edge of the yard. Then all that over and over
again. Five hours total work-time, with time out for lunch
and supper. By the time I got home I knew all too well
that seventy-two is not thirty-five; I could barely move.
I got to quit earlier than Nadine. She told me I’d done
enough and that I should go get a beer and lie down on
the chaise lounge and cheer her on, which is what I did.
All this made me remember my father forty years ago
helping me with my garden. My father’s dead now, and
has been dead for many years, which is how I’ll be one
of these days too. And then Nadine will help her child,
who is not yet here, with her garden. Old Nadine, aching
and sore, will be in my empty shoes, cheering on her own.
So it goes. The wheel turns, generation after generation,
around and around. We ride for a little while, get off and
somebody else gets on. Over and over, again and again.
“Who can guess the luna’s sadness who lives so
briefly? Who can guess the impatience of stone
longing to be ground down, to be part again of
something livelier? Who can imagine in what
heaviness the rivers remember their original
~ Mary Oliver, from “The Moth, The Mountains, The Rivers”
Now you’d be three,
I said to myself,
seeing a child born
the same summer as you.
Now you’d be six,
or seven, or ten.
I watched you grow
in foreign bodies.
Leaping into a pool, all laughter,
or frowning over a keyboard,
but mostly just standing,
taller each time.
How splendid your most
mundane action seemed
in these joyful proxies.
I often held back tears.
Now you are twenty-one.
Finally, it makes sense
that you have moved away
into your own afterlife.
~ Dana Gioia
My Friend Says
When my friend says he’s
Walking closer to sadness
I know he means his own
Yet I also know precisely
What he means & he means
The gods he once admired
Because for so long they
Seemed to admire him
Have emptied their quivers
Into his flesh his very flesh
& he says this to me
Because he knows I too stood
In this exact moonlight
Stripped of every possibility
& divine protection
Except for a silver medallion
Of St. Sebastian hanging
Like a noose around my neck
& if the night that night was
A mirror then I believe so too
Was I the plain reflection
Of the long sadness of my friend