for my father
He’d have missed some of these latest days
our family re-joined
old stories re-told
but told longer this time
as if they grew like rings on trees every year.
Dad would tell me things in confidence
about so many people
about his brothers and sister, his parents, his wife, his daughter,
his grandchildren, his colleagues,
about the many people who touched his life -
He would say such gracious and beautiful things about all of you
and his candidness is all the more remarkable
for its being entirely accurate.
All of you are a part of my parents’ gift to me
and I’m grateful to consider you
my friends and family.
And this is where I should hear my dad’s voice
this is his place, talking to all of you
It was his gift, sharing and relating,
I can only pretend to do it –
nevertheless my father deserves my real voice today
not the one I adopted to get dates or fit in
but the mewling, nerdy, know-it-all one
that’s actually more about he and I given its provenance from his selflessness.
So I’ll use *it* hoping maybe I can still conjure his
since I can’t hold him.
I sometimes feel more like my dad than myself.
I lazily believed I contained only lonely possibility
but listening carefully I hear a gulf mostly filled with his beautiful echoes.
I carry Dad’s cadence, a sing-song “welllll now, Mary”
is my preamble now.
His whistle, used as the transition between dialogues
as if air were filled with fuel for music
which he would combust easily into playful flickerings,
this whistle I’ve adopted
less his talent.
You know, hearing him in my own voice got harder as
Dad and I spoke of death more often
nearer to today’s memorial.
He cried sometimes,
his agility devolved by medicine or maybe
or maybe even joy and wouldn’t we be so lucky if that were true.
And my last words about death to him (just hours before he died)
“I’d rather not risk my father who can still use words like ‘elicit’”
laid perpendicularly to his last words about it
“well, son, if that was the last Blazers game i’ll see, it was a good one”
(And it was – they came back from an four point deficit with 32 seconds on the clock to a series of teeth-gritting plays that led to a wildly improbable last-second lob – if you didn’t see it you missed an actual thing.)
The game was a barn-burner
for a man familiar with farms
but while we talked this deep, terrible hole was being burned open beneath us.
I thought him fatalistic
and Dad instead gained another opportunity
to teach me about hubris.
and now i think my heart might be a different shape
it feels odd in my chest
like it gained right angles
I need him here. I’m very selfish. I need him to see the rest. And he deserved a longer life; he earned it.
And I know he’d hate this struggle we have
coping with his passing,
so I’ve been re-reading this prose I found,
like a koan.
It’s a small part of a poem by Wendell Berry
and if I read it maybe it’ll actually cast some easement here
but you have to imagine you’ve laid your head
on my Dad’s chest
and he’s reading it to you after some bullies in school
stole your bicycle.
“But do not let your ignorance
Of my spirit’s whereabouts dismay
You, or overwhelm your thoughts.
Be careful not to say
Anything too final. Whatever
Is unsure is possible, and life is bigger
Than flesh. Beyond reach of thought
Let imagination figure
Your hope. That will be generous
To me and to yourselves.”
Our taste in poems and other deft art was similar and precise
as wide in variance as a hairline crack in a glacier,
apt, since we both liked art with a bit of peril
as if to say
this experience might tip you from this-you to the next
changing you to something unrecognizable to yourself
but better, more true to the universe as it is now.
Especially one day,
Dad, after watching a TV special about a man dying of cancer,
one of the talking wounded specials,
suggested that “well son, it’s a story that’s almost enough to make a guy tell the truth for the rest of his life.”
These seemingly small moments of brave sharing
would nearly burst my heart with sharp joy
and now my lives may always have to measure the reach
of this father-friend
who liked to show me the shape I would become
rather than cutting my edges so I could fit a preferred cast more to his liking
since it seemed what he liked best was to recognize native clay
solid in its mystery
and observe how its wonder was synecdoche for the indescribable majesty of
its being observed by someone.
Hard to believe
he will no longer age
as I continue changing
growing strange to whatever I once was.
But he’s growing still
as something like light in me and my family
and as I feel tossed lightly and dropped suddenly
living as we all do
like a dinghy in a vast sea
I know there’s a point
I can steer toward
since his life will be my lighthouse
so that I’ll always know how to go home.
Charles Adelbert Wetherell III, 1941-2011