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I remember the way you talked about your daddy,
How your eyes would dim when you said he was only 81.
“He’d have lived to 100, if he hadn’t smoked.”

I understand, now.
I know the waking panic of 3 AM;
The nauseating sense that a great mistake has been made—
A wrong that must be remediated,
An overturning that must be righted.

I know what it means to scrabble and claw in the dark
After the elusive solution,
That golden key which will turn this tragedy
Back into the comedy it’s meant to be.

It doesn’t help to tell myself it’s not my fault,
That no penance of mine will ever bring you back,
No gauntlet win your freedom from this foe.

(How long the years stretch forth when stained by loss!)

You didn’t make it, either—
Your daddy was gone before you got there,
Though you drove through the night.

(But I understand why you never went back to New Orleans.)

I crossed a continent, mad as Mercury to be at your side.
For what—to make you stay? To hold you back
In that broken body? Imprisoned for one more second
In the fear and pain of a shattered mind?

Never.

(And, yet, I can’t help feeling there must be
Something I should have done.)

It’s never safe to lose a daddy like yours

Or mine.

You would have been 68 today.
(Are you older or younger now?)
Perhaps, in years to come, this will again be a day of laughter,
And remembering. Today
All I can think is, “Too young.”

I never can stomach the shrinking delicacy of “passed away.”
The daintiness that glances aside from Death’s firm gaze
And calls it someone’s “time.”

But I know you shouldn’t be dead.

You should be ripping through the grand tall tale of your life,
Braver than a boar hog,
Stronger than a new rope,
Wild as a buck,
Light-hearted as a summer sky.

You should be flinging out the great largesse of your laugh,
Making all within earshot as rich as kings.

You should be telling me to do what I’m made for,
Telling me not to be afraid of life.
(You never did have to tell me that—
When you were near, I wasn’t scared of anything.)

But if Death’s dark grammar defies imprecision,
Mercy all the more demands exactitude:
I cannot speak of you in lies of “was” and “were.”

And while I pine for your smile,
The sound of your voice,
The calloused knots of your hands,

I cannot deny that you are.

The oldest corner of my soul knows just how near,
The youngest learns that while I live,
Something of you lives on, as well.

What a charge, your living, and dying, and living again!
Do you have the least idea what wealth you’ve wrapped me in?
(I think you do.)

The last thing you ever said was, “I love you.”

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*photo credit: Frank Gibson