Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Sept. 12, 1907 - March 19, 1992

Taken in front of his apartment at 409 E. 6th St.,
East Village, Manhattan

I could've eased my dad's final months,
could've soothed
his fears
that arose 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 am I?
Why am I alone?
Why aren't you here?
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,
and carefully threading the brittle film
through the projector
there he is
in his element
forever young
in far happier days
before realities put hopes to flight,
and having opened this portal
I let loose torrents of emotion
such as I've never felt

It's been 15 springs
since he's been gone
but the talks we have now
by his graveside
are among the best
we ever had

(first published on my blog on Feb. 10, 2006. It reappears here in slightly edited/revised form)


Mungo said...

Wonderful poem!

Michael said...

Thank you.

nikki said...

absotively beautiful poem. i mean, just beautiful. i actually had to turn my music off so i could finish reading it.

Michael said...

Hi Nikki,

Thanks so, so much for your comments. They come from the heart, and that's where I received them.

When my dad was alive, I was at a different place emotionally and really couldn't relate to him or to what he held dear. Lack of maturity played a big part in my attitude.

As I've grown older -- I'm 45 now -- I have come to realize just how much like him I am, and I thank him daily for the good qualities that I inherited from him. Of course, with the good qualities come the not so good ones, but my dad was a man, not a saint.

And I think allowing him to be human in his foibles and in his triumphs has brought us closer, even though he is not physically present.

I miss him.

east village idiot said...

This is my third attempt to leave a post! I left one (or thought I did) days ago. For some reason they aren't getting through. Thank you for this beautiful poem. It is so powerful, honest and beautiful.

Michael said...

Hey EVI,

Hmmm ... maybe Blogger's getting funky again. The service sometimes can be unpredictable.

Anyway, thanks so much for your comments. This poem continues to evolve, and writing it initially a year and a half ago was very cathartic.

Mike Cross said...

"The samadhi of accepting and using the self" might be the true destination of the wayfarer who calls himself o-henro-san, and might be mine too.

To accept the self... hmmm. Doesn't sound too difficult.

But the human failings I see in my father, that is asking something, to accept them.

Michael said...

And, with me (and I suspect with you, too), thus we are again confronted by the mirror principle.

Mike Cross said...

You got it. You got it.

We hate in the other that which we fear may be wrong in us.

Why did Hitler hate Jews and see them as dirty? Because he feared that his own Aryan heritage had been polluted by Jewish blood.

Why are there so many Jewish media-types today who are virulently anti-racist? Because they hate in overt racists what is inherent in their own myth of belonging to a chosen people.

Why do I hate those Jewish media-types who distort the truth for the sake of their own agenda? Because I am afraid in myself of the tendency to distort the truth for the sake of my own agenda.

Michael said...

But Mike, beauty and ugliness, good and bad, those with agendas and those who are guileless exist (often simultaneously) in all religions and races.

Mike Cross said...

Yes, there is a lot of deep prejudice among people who regard themselves as Buddhist too. But the original teaching of the Buddha, which is beyond both race and religion, is just to drop off all prejudice. Dropping off all prejudice, one begins to see what is at the core of the problems of self and others -- fear of what may be wrong in oneself and projection of that tendency onto the hated other. Following the mirror principle, you have done it and I have done it, in regard to our own fathers. But I don’t think that we are by any means the only blind and stupid ones. An old Zen Master did it to me for 25 years, before I finally realized what was going on.

Semitic religion has a hell of a lot to answer for, but many of us are afraid to say so, for fear of being perceived as anti-semitic. Even your comment here, Michael, seems to be tinged with political correctness. That probably makes sense, considering you work in a media job in New York.

In writing what I am writing now, I also am not without trepidation as to what repercussions there might be. (I may well be setting myself up to become the hated other.) But casting aside those fears, is it not fair and reasonable to point out that the myth that God chose the tribe of Judah as his chosen people is a strongly racist ideology? Am I not allowed to say so?

And is there any other racist ideology that has exercised an influence on the course of human history to any extent comparable to the influence of that racist Old Testament ideology?

Michael said...

Oh, Mike, by no means do I want to regulate your opinions. I value what to say, and that comes from my respect for you. I think that anytime a people hold themselves up as anointed, superior, separate from the rest (and, thus, somehow "better"), evil things can happen. It can be argued that Zionism is such a viewpoint. So was Nazism. So are Christian and Islamic fundamentalism.

If I were asked to sum up my views on Buddhism in one sentence, it would be this: There is no "other," because we're all in this shitstorm together.

Michael said...

Oooops... That should read, "I value what you say ..."

Mike Cross said...

Thanks Michael,

You have put your finger exactly on the tendency I don't like to see in myself -- the tendency to regard oneself as inherently superior, better than others, different from others; and going along with that, albeit unconsciously, trying to prove that it is so.

I have problems with the myth of a chosen people because on some deep level I continue to hold the delusion that I am in some way a chosen one.

The good old mirror principle -- it never fails.

Anonymous said...

This is beautiful in every way. I cried when reading it it was so powerful.

You have made peace with something that we all struggle with.You are not alone.

Michael said...

Thank you ...