Friday, February 10, 2006

For MST, 1907-1992

I could've eased my dad's final months
could've soothed
his fears
arising from awareness
of ebbing lucidity
his mind the victim
of a capricious child
stealing a cookie here and there
from the jar

I could've bridged decades of enmity
that had settled
into an uneasy truce
could've answered
that frantic long-distance call
one afternoon
a cry for help
asking me
where he was
why he was alone
why I wasn't there
"Can you HELP me?"
he pleads
into the answering machine
through which I screened the call

In his last days
his mind nearly gone
wife unable to care
for his needs
or defend herself
against his blind rages
he is put in a nursing home
the same one where his mother died
I remember visiting her there
as a boy of 4
"Why is Grandma playing with a doll?"
I ask my mother
in a scene that haunts me
to this day

And now my dad
perched on the edge
of that same fine and fragile line
and at that same way station
in a moment of clarity
"I'm going to die here, aren't I?"

I want to visit him
"He wouldn't even recognize you"
my mother says
I take her word for it
and stay away

The phone call came a week later
he died just past midnight
on his 48th wedding anniversary

I don't recall shedding many tears
at his funeral
but afterward
I pulled out the box of old home movies
safely tucked away
and forgotten
in my mother's basement
carefully threading the brittle film
through the projector
and there he is
in his element
forever young
in far happier days
before realities put hopes to flight
and opening this portal
I let loose torrents of emotion
such as I've never felt

It's been 14 springs
since he's been gone
but the talks we have now
by his graveside
are among the best
we ever had


Kitty said...

Michael, you have no idea how much I can relate to this. Thank you so much. *deep breath*

MikeDoe said...

::-)|-( [Mixed emoticons]

Thank you for sharing that.

Jean said...

Oh, this is very moving, as well as beautifully shaped and flowing. Too hard on yourself, of course. But the knowledge that your father never met the older, more compassionate and understanding, you is never easy - and shared perhaps by all of us whose parents died when we were quite young. So glad to be reading you, Michael.

Beth said...

michael, wow. that is a powerful piece of writing.

Michael said...

Thank you all for your comments. This poem was easy to write but extremely difficult to write, if that makes sense.

mrsbeach said...

The tears, they are a flowing, you have a way with words Michael.

Thanks for sharing such a touching memory.

take care

Michael said...

Thanks, Beachy. Tears were welling up on this end, too. Sometimes, memory isn't such a pleasant thing.

anu said...

tears in my big eyes
reading your poem Michael
now that line about
your grandma and the doll
haunts me too

Michael said...

Hi Anu,

Yes, that memory has haunted me for almost 40 years now. It was a Raggedy Ann doll. I can still see it. My grandmother was in a hospital bed with the side rails pulled up so that she wouldn't fall out. She was lying on her side with the doll when my mom and I arrived. I don't even think she realized we were there.
OK, that's enough ...

Oxeye said...

michael, thank you for sharing something so personal and yet so universal. I watched both of my parents die. I wasn't able to help my father very much. I hope I was able to comfort my mother a little. It still amazes me when reading people's internet journals that they are often able to touch me in the same way great artworks do. you certainly have that ability.

g said...

This is a powerful poem and it has been in the back of my mind all weekend. This morning when I woke, I thought about it as if your father were reading the poem from the beyond, and from that point of view, you ~did~ bridge the uneasy truce, and visit him, and talk to him, and shed an ocean of tears on his behalf, and he, from his place, did look back at you with pride and understanding.

Michael said...

Hello g, Oxeye,

Thank you both for your comments. Yes, g, I think that a peace has been made, though I would have preferred to have made it years ago. I agree with you, Oxeye, that there's some pretty powerful catharsisf going on with many blogs. I think it has the potential to be a very good thing.

Green said...

I had a simulation..

Michael said...

Hi Greensleeves,

A simulation? I'm not sure I understand ...

Michael said...

Ah, Greensleeves, I understand. Thanks so much! :)

Green said...

Sorry for my English. I felt like as if I experienced the same thing as you did. It has a very strong visual image comes with your poem.

Green said...

Is this in New York? Is this horse with a cute ribbon on the head given by someone for your daddy's birthday, do you think??

Michael said...

Hi Greensleeves,

Yes, the photo was taken in Manhattan in front of the apartment building where my dad lived, at 409 E. 6th St. between First Avenue and Avenue A in the East Village. He and his two sisters and parents lived in Apartment 18, on the fourth floor of a five-story building.
He must've been about 5 or 6 when this picture was taken. His mother made the little suit he is wearing. There was a street vendor who owned a pony and he would wander Manhattan asking parents if they wanted a picture of their kid riding his pony.
I just got off the phone with his sister, who turns 95 next week, and she supplied all these details.
Thank you so much, Greensleeves, for inspiring me to talk to my aunt to larn this bit about the past.

Green said...

Wow, thank YOU so much for providing those stories!
I love to imagine some story behind the photo.
Already your dad has become a hero of some story in my mind!

Mary said...

Michael, I'm here via Jean's blog. Thank you for this poem. It means a lot to me and will perhaps in due course give me the ability to write something about my father ..

Chris said...



Michael said...

Thank you, Greensleeves. That's very, very sweet of you.

As always, thanks.

Hi Mary,
Welcome! Sometimes, once you open the spigot, a torrent gushes out.

Anonymous said...

Brother Dear,
I have felt this way for many years. I too, shed few tears at Dad's Funeral. Two years after his death I was listening to a song while taking a drive(will share with you in private) and out of the blue, realized that no one shed a tear at Dad's funeral and it just about broke my heart. I had to pull over and cried my eyes out for some time. We know now that he WAS an honorable man with dignity and I too am sorry that I couldn't (or wouldn't) be there to help him die with dignity. You know a bit about my belief system and it helps me to remember that many pass without ever being appreciated and I know that on some level he knows that his children take the time to understand him and love him. I believe that it helps him to rest in peace. Love You!!!!!!!!!!

anu said...

Great picture Michael

Michael said...

Ooops... in my reply above, I wrote "I just got off the phone with his sister ..." I was talking about my dad's sister, not the street vendor's. Sorry for the ambiguity. Long day.