Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Poem for My Father

The softness of my father's eyes
blessing all we did with light.
How gentle were his hands
that built houses, washed clothes, cooked meals,
and all of it accomplished just for us
so we could know the fruits of endless love.
"It's what I do," he said, as if there were
no dreams of his own he couldn't share.

He kept us all on time
but there was always time, in him, for us,
to hear our endless tales of poop,
to pretend he couldn't hit the pitches we threw,
to read that same book over again
with the same ridiculous French accent
until we stopped laughing at the word magog,
to persist with me for what seemed like years
until I solved that one math problem.

He taught us how to see: the tree rings,
the leaf veins, the colors in the daffodil.
He taught us how to hear: what people needed
in what they said, the hidden trill
inside each person's voice.
He taught us not to be afraid, of horseshoe crabs
or bumblebees. He showed us it was safe to cross
the felled tree laid across the creek.
He taught us how to say prayers to the frogs and to the oaks -
how it's wrong to slap a mosquito.
We learned from him to love all people equally,
how to ask for what we wanted, how to give without a thought,
how to make mistakes and change, how success begins within.

We always knew to brush our teeth, feed the dog, and say "thank you."
We always knew that other kids only wounded when they felt wounds.

But of all I learned, it's me that I remember,
how I caught the biggest fish, and won the sailing race,
and sounded just as witty as the President
at the adult dinner party.
It mattered that I didn't cry when I skinned my knee,
it mattered that the moon was red, and that my bike was stolen from
I didn't have to waste time thinking where my life would someday
I could be anything I wanted, there was nothing not allowed.

We read Melville and the Fisher King, and he talked of human
I asked how far the stars went back, and he told me all the theories,
and how they all were one, and that I'd have to learn the truth
all by myself.

He always loved me as I was, greasy hair and all,
but saw me try to be like him, and gently, gently frowned.

No emergency at home could raise his voice or bring fear
to his eyes - no dying cat, or broken lamp, or stolen groceries.
He never missed a day of work, or baseball game, or concert,
he always helped us pick up trash from the bay,
and went to all my boy scout camps, and told the scariest stories.

I wonder if I've been half as good
in teaching golden lessons to my own
(as if my kids had thought of them themselves);
in answering every question
(in ways they'd understand);
in showing them how saws and ropes (and, sometimes, women)
in joining in their play as more than guest,
but as teacher, as coach.

The only answer I receive to this is
love is truth, and truth is love,
and these, indeed, have been my memories.
They ring for me much clearer and more real
than what is actual:

the eggshells, the shaming, the wine.