Lyric

 

I am waiting for time to come
holding the many days’ sameness inside me
fold on fold of invisible stuff
that you can’t see and yet piles up
secretly in the mind like nothing at all
an unseen dust
– then I ask myself what I’m talking about
and can’t answer that either:
a quantity of something I can’t describe
or measure or prove or disprove

– “Untitled,” Al Purdy

 

On your day, my wife and I toss out
the words of a prayer for you, fourteen
years dead, a man she never met.
It’s a blessing you said often.
Afterwards, I describe again
your broad chest and grin.
How you would have cared for her:
with Warmth, I say, with Love – words
I hope to one day enter, speak from.
I am waiting for time to come

and help me inhabit these words
you understood and lived:
Strength. Grace. Your last son
born late in life, something inside you
that could no longer be contained,
escaped as me. Your arthritic joints
supple as you supported my body
at swimming lessons, cradled its exhausted
looseness to bed each night. You firmly
held the many days’ sameness inside me

and relished the repetitions:
What’s this? Ball. Good.
Mama. Good. Papa. Good.
Words as wards against three waves
of chemo, the last the worst. Delusion –
your staccato stumbling from the mouth,
the earth. The losing rough as gravel,
steady as tides and tireless. Your mind and then
your body, one death not enough –
fold on fold of invisible stuff.

The importance I felt at your funeral
in my polished black shoes, the later
shame. The desert of middle school. First
crush, first shave, first awkward shiftings.
Always less remaining to forget:
a prayer, card game, story, your belly-flop
laugh. Then, high school’s abandon. The girl
who will become my wife. Your slow burial
under new memories, muck
that you can’t see and yet piles up

until the earth levels under short-trimmed grass.
Rituals each birthday, my arm slung
atop mom’s shoulder. Later, my back hooked
over your version of solitaire, the game you failed
to beat in eighty years – a battle I resumed,
though I was satisfied with failure, a legend to recall
for my own children of the game no man could conquer,
not even their grandpa of mountains and myth
and genius. One story that wouldn’t fail me, wouldn’t fall
secretly from the mind like nothing at all.

That evening eight years in, eager
for sleep, I slid the pack out one-handed,
as you’d shown, and fanned the cards
across the table. Again and again the failure
of suits and numbers to find their common home.
I shuffled lazily, re-dealt, my thin hands heavy,
mind corroded by drowsiness and resignation.
Each move made with little calculation, care. Yet there
it was, the last card. Final thrust.
An unseen dust

rising off the pack. I searched
for my mistake. But no break in the pattern.
Everything in place but me, though I arrived,
thought of you sitting at the same table
years before. Your devout fingers.
Ruffled brows. Commentaries, in turns stout
and languorous. Apologetic chuckles.
Swift movements. Sweepings up. I spoke
these things aloud. In that room, I hauled them out,
then I asked myself what I was talking about.

The words hung dispossessed,
abandoned. Pride or shame or sadness –
anything but this absence, this wall
without a door. I pushed the cards away,
two-handed, then spoke the word Death
and watched it waver, a worn tapestry.
I asked myself how it meant, and what,
and why it had emerged from my body before Love.
I asked if it meant both or neither
and couldn’t answer that either.

Your father was a good man,
says my wife, slipping her arm
across the small of my back and resting
it on the lip of fat above my hip. Good.
Yes, that’s right. Of all the doors
I’d approached, but could not enter,
this one opens for me first. And across the room
another word, another door. And more.
Winding almost endlessly inside –
a quantity I can’t describe.

Father, somewhere down this stretch of doors
is Death. Not at the end, but near it. Love
is further in, I fear. And Fear, yes, even further.
But how to navigate this path? A leaping, I suppose,
a stumbling. My thin hand in hers. A lifetime spent
opening one door, finding another. Each room tidy
and warm, prepared for our coming.
In thanks, we cast these words ahead across
the distance. If they reach, and whom, we cannot choose
or measure or prove or disprove.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First published as a chapbook by the Alfred Gustav Press.

Read my “Afterword” to this poem, from my chapbook Lyric.

Read more about my chapbook Lyric.

Read more poems from The Other Side of Ourselves.