The Father Startles
lost in their rooms
float through dreams
no one understands
every now and then
they moan calling out
each one sounding like the other
so the father
who sits up in his own dreaming
which door to open
which son to touch
which dream to destroy
As My Father Starts To Die
“I don’t know how to do this.” Sharon James, my mother
No one does. My father falls for the third time
in two months, landing flat on his face.
Blood everywhere, glasses bent to shit, he can’t get up
by himself. Eventually, using a chair for leverage, he climbs
and pulls his body to an upright position, and Mom cleans
his scraped face, puts ice on the left eye. By the grace
of God, nothing’s broken. This time. Later, the eye swells
to the size of a golf ball, all purple and red.
Diabetes, emphysema, heart disease: in this slow race
to the end, my father seems
oblivious. This once big, strong man is a shell
cracking, spilling human parts on the ground.
The leg ulcers heal, then reappear.
He sees a girl, painted face, standing at the door and we tell
him it’s a lack of oxygen, a daytime dream
that’s not real. Every day is a step down
and there’s nothing anyone can do,
nothing anyone can say.
We give him pills, drive to doctors’ appointments, stand around
and watch his eyes slowly lose their gleam.
What a Father Should Say
There’s nothing I can say to you
that will matter. My words, my poems,
my plays, none of them will hold
your heart away from the fire. You’re screwed,
the same as me.
And when I say screwed, I mean your heart will roam
through the long days, sometimes in love, sometimes
breaking, mostly, doing its job quietly
and unnoticed. It keeps time, a juicy metronome
allowing your life’s music to unfold
and play its own sweet song. If I had a dime
for every wish, I could die and leave you millions.
Instead, I’m blazing ahead on a dark path
to nowhere, praying for divine
intervention, dropping to my knees
in hope and faith, but uncertain about either one.
Remember, I would have done anything for you—
sell the house, donate a kidney, hold you in my arms
forever—if it would save you. Tomorrow, when the sun
rises, breathe in the day and make it last.
Whether You Want To Believe It Or Not
I am in your
toes and fingers
flowing in your
when I die
a part of you
will go down
into that dark hole
but another part
will stay up here
settling in behind
able to step out
into your life
and when not
there is no
we are chained
for better or worse
and I will pull
as you pull
I Know It’s Coming
for Lindon James
The story ends
with the end.
I can run five miles a day,
watch my diet, drink less, spend
time reading and learning, take vitamins and pills,
yet nothing’s strong enough to mend
what I have: age.
My birthday arrives in three days no matter what.
Each week, I drive out to watch my father descend
into the future and it’s not pretty.
When Dylan Thomas told us to rage
against the night, he knew what was coming.
Now I know. My father’s body
collapses to fit into a small cage
as his world shrinks into TV and doctor’s appointments,
neither of which can help. His past is crumbling
beneath his feet, memories slipping out of reach.
I do what I can around the house,
keep him company, but his story is ending, humming
a song everyone’s heard but no one knows.