Though my mother was already two years dead
Dad kept her slippers warming by the gas,
put hot water bottles her side of the bed
and still went to renew her transport pass.
You couldn't just drop in. You had to phone.
He'd put you off an hour to give him time
to clear away her things and look alone
as though his still raw love were such a crime.
He couldn't risk my blight of disbelief
though sure that very soon he'd hear her key
scrape in the rusted lock and end his grief.
He knew she'd just popped out to get the tea.
I believe life ends with death, and that is all.
You haven't both gone shopping; just the same,
in my new black leather phone book there's your name
and the disconnected number I still call.
From Selected Poems by Tony Harrison, published by Penguin Books, Ltd. Copyright © 1984. Used with permission.
My father knows the proper way The nation should be run; He tells us children every day Just what should now be done. He knows the way to fix the trusts, He has a simple plan; But if the furnace needs repairs, We have to hire a man. My father, in a day or two Could land big thieves in jail; There's nothing that he cannot do, He knows no word like "fail." "Our confidence" he would restore, Of that there is no doubt; But if there is a chair to mend, We have to send it out. All public questions that arise, He settles on the spot; He waits not till the tumult dies, But grabs it while it's hot. In matters of finance he can Tell Congress what to do; But, O, he finds it hard to meet His bills as they fall due. It almost makes him sick to read The things law-makers say; Why, father's just the man they need, He never goes astray. All wars he'd very quickly end, As fast as I can write it; But when a neighbor starts a fuss, 'Tis mother has to fight it. In conversation father can Do many wondrous things; He's built upon a wiser plan Than presidents or kings. He knows the ins and outs of each And every deep transaction; We look to him for theories, But look to ma for action.
This poem is in the public domain.
Three days into his wake my father has not risen. He remains encased in pine, hollowed- out, his body unsealed, organs harvested, then zippered shut like a purse. How strange to see one’s face inside a coffin. The son at my most peaceful. The father at his most peaceful. Not even the loud chorus of wailing family members can rid us of our sleep. My mother sits front center. Regal in black, her eyes sharpened as Cleopatra’s. Her children, grown and groaning, quietly moan beside a white copse of trumpeting flowers. The church is forested with immigrants, spent after their long journey to another country to die. Before the casket is to be closed, we all rise to bid our final farewells. My mother lowers herself, kisses the trinity of the forehead and cheeks, then motions her obedient children to follow. One by one my siblings hover, perch, and peck. I stand over my father as I had done on occasions of safe approach: in his sleep, or splayed like a crushed toad on the floor, drunk. I study him, planetary, distant presence both bodily and otherworldly, a deceptive kind of knowledge. His beauty has waned but not faded, face surface of a moon, not ours, I turn pale, shivering, I place my hand on his, amphibious. While my mother places her hand warm on the cradle of my back, where I bend to fit into my body. Her burning eyes speak, Do it for me, they urge, Kiss your father goodbye. I refuse.
Copyright © 2018 by Joseph O. Legaspi. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 17, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
When I came back, he was gone. My mother was in the bathroom crying, my sister in her crib restless but asleep. The sun was shining in the bay window, the grass had not been cut. No one mentioned the other woman, nights he spent in that stranger's house. I sat at my desk and wrote him a note. When my mother saw his name on the sheet of paper, she asked me to leave the house. When she spoke, her voice was like a whisper to someone else, her hand a weight on my arm I could not feel. In the evening, though, I opened the door and saw a thousand houses just like ours. I thought I was the one who was leaving, and behind me I heard my mother's voice asking me to stay. But I was thirteen and wishing I were a man I listened to no one, and no words from a woman I loved were strong enough to make me stop.
From Palm Reading In Winter by Ira Sadoff, published by Houghton Mifflin. Copyright © 1978 by Ira Sadoff. Used by permission of the author.
My daughter has lived overseas for a number of years now. She married into royalty, and they won’t let her communicate with any of her family or friends. She lives on birdseed and a few sips of water. She dreams of me constantly. Her husband, the Prince, whips her when he catches her dreaming. Fierce guard dogs won’t let her out of their sight. I hired a detective, but he was killed trying to rescue her. I have written hundreds of letters to the State Department. They have written back saying that they are aware of the situation. I never saw her dance. I was always at some convention. I never saw her sing. I was always working late. I called her My Princess, to make up for my shortcomings, and she never forgave me. Birdseed was her middle name.
From The Ghost Soldiers by James Tate. Copyright © 2008 by James Tate. Reprinted by permission of Ecco/HarperCollins. All rights reserved.
I dreamt we were already there.
Some things were right
and some were not.
And somehow Tuesday
was Monday again.
I slept then woke
and then fell asleep again
and when I slept again
I dreamt we were already there.
Things were right some
and were some not.
My father died yesterday, she said.
Yesterday, some things were and.
Today some are not.
Copyright © 2018 Lynley Edmeades. This poem originally appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Summer 2018. Used with permission of the author.
Funny, isn’t it, how hard to describe
a good man? In the shower, I let
the water run hot as my blood filtering
a mirror of loss. The messenger arrived
flustered as feathers falling to the place
where feathers go to find each other. Who
is the man who makes you remark, “I have
been lucky”? How does the faucet instruct
forgiveness? Our voices spiral to meet
with too much space between. My cuticles
shine like chrome under the moment’s remains.
A demand for nakedness pools somewhere
down the drain. For what we’ve been able to
let go, and know it happens to us all.
Copyright © 2020 by Cristina Correa. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 6, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
My good old father tucked his head,
(His face the color of gingerbread)
Over the table my mother had spread,
And folded his leathery hands and said:
“We thank thee, Lord, for this thy grace,
And all thy bounties to the race;
Turn not away from us thy face
Till we come to our final resting-place.”
These were the words of the old elect,
Or others to the same effect.
I love my father’s piety,
I know h’s grateful as can be,
A man that’s nearly seventy
And past his taste for cookery.
But I am not so old as he,
And when I see in front of me
Things that I like uncommonly,
(Cornfield beans my specialty,
When every pod spills two or three),
Then I forget the thou and thee
And pray with total fervency :
Thank you, good Lord, for dinner-time!
Gladly I come from the sweat and grime
To play in your Christian pantomime.
I wash the black dust from my face,
I sit again in a Christian’s place,
I hear the ancient Christian’s grace.
My thanks for clean fresh napkin first,
With faint red stain where the fruit-jar burst.
Thanks for a platter with kind blue roses,
For mother’s centerpiece and posies,
A touch of art right under our noses.
Mother, I’ll thank you for tumbler now
Of morning’s milk from our Jersey cow.
And father, thanks for a generous yam,
And a helping of home-cured country ham,
(He knows how fond of it I am.)
For none can cure them as can he,
And he won t tell his recipe,
But God was behind it, it seems to me.
Thank God who made the garden grow,
Who took upon himself to know
That we loved vegetables so.
I served his plan with rake and hoe,
And mother, boiling, baking, slow
To her favorite tune of Old Black Joe,
Predestined many an age ago.
Pearly corn still on the cob,
My teeth are aching for that job.
Tomatoes, one would fill a dish,
Potatoes, mealy as one could wish.
Cornfield beans and cucumbers,
And yellow yams for sweeteners.
Pickles between for stepping-stones,
And plenty of cornmeal bread in pones.
Sunday the preacher droned a lot
About a certain whether or not:
Is God the universal friend,
And if men pray can he attend
To each man s individual end?
They pray for individual things,
Give thanks for little happenings,
But isn t his sweep of mighty wings
Meant more for businesses of kings
Than pulling small men s petty strings?
He’s infinite, and all of that,
The setting sun his habitat,
The heavens they hold by his fiat,
The glorious year that God begat;
And what is creeping man to that,
O preacher, valiant democrat?
“The greatest of all, his sympathy,
His kindness, reaching down to me.”
Like mother, he finds it his greatest joy
To have big dinners for his boy.
She understands him like a book,
In fact, he helps my mother cook,
And slips to the dining-room door to look;
And when we are at our noon-day meal,
He laughs to think how fine we feel.
An extra fork is by my plate,
I nearly noticed it too late!
Mother, you’re keeping a secret back!
I see the pie-pan through the crack,
Incrusted thick in gold and black.
There’s no telling what that secret pair
Have cooked for me in the kitchen there,
There’s no telling what that pie can be,
But tell me that it s blackberry !
As long as I keep topside the sod,
I ll love you always, mother and God.
This poem is in the public domain, and originally appeared in Poems about God (Henry Holt and Co, 1919).
My mother married a man who divorced her for money. Phyllis, he would say, If you don’t stop buying jewelry, I will have to divorce you to keep us out of the poorhouse. When he said this, she would stub out a cigarette, mutter something under her breath. Eventually, he was forced to divorce her. Then, he died. Then she did. The man was not my father. My father was buried down the road, in a box his other son selected, the ashes of his third wife in a brass urn that he will hold in the crook of his arm forever. At the reception, after his funeral, I got mean on four cups of Lime Sherbet Punch. When the man who was not my father divorced my mother, I stopped being related to him. These things are complicated, says the Talmud. When he died, I couldn’t prove it. I couldn’t get a death certificate. These things are complicated, says the Health Department. Their names remain on the deed to the house. It isn’t haunted, it’s owned by ghosts. When I die, I will come in fast and low. I will stick the landing. There will be no confusion. The dead will make room for me.
Copyright © 2020 by Richard Siken. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 4, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Wind and rain, here
are the keys
to the house—
a missing door,
two broken windows.
Birds, for you a room
with a view—the bedroom,
which once held
the moon and stars
out of sight.
Ants and worms,
such sad witnesses,
the grass uncut,
the yard overgrown
are again yours to inherit.
And you, the leaves whirling
across buckled floors,
my father’s voice
May you live forever,
may you bury me.
Copyright © 2020 by Hayan Charara. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 25, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
He looked so tired after breakfast
says the nurse
we put him back to bed.
She presses a button
and my father
rises toward us.
For something to say
that time you stole apples
from Jimmy Snoddy’s garden!
He smiles at her
slyly. He’s saying
Outside the window
a bullfinch is feasting
on birch buds.
Copyright © 2022 by Ken Cockburn. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 18, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.
This fireman comes every afternoon
to the café on the corner
dressed for his shift in clean dark blues
This time it’s the second Wednesday of January
and he’s meeting his daughter again
who must be five or six
and who is always waiting for her father like this
in her charcoal gray plaid skirt
with green and red stripes
She probably comes here straight from school
her glasses a couple nickels thick
By now I know that she can sit (except
for her one leg swinging from the chair)
absolutely still while her father pulls
fighters’ wraps from his work bag
and begins half way down the girl’s forearm
winding the fabric in overlapping spirals
slowly toward her fist then he props
her wrist like a pro on his own hand
unraveling the black cloth weaving it
between her thumb and forefinger
around the palm taut but
not so much that it cuts off the blood then
up the hand and between the other fingers
to protect the knuckles the tough
humpback guppies just under the skin
He does this once with her left then again
to her right To be sure her pops knows he has done
a good job she nods Good job Good
Maybe you’re right I don’t know what love is
A father kisses the top of his daughter’s head
and knocks her glasses cockeyed
He sits back and downs the last of the backwash
in his coffee cup They got 10 minutes to kill
before they walk across the street down the block
and out of sight She wants to test
her dad’s handiwork by throwing
a couple jab-cross combos from her seat
There is nothing in the daughter’s face
that says she is afraid
There is nothing in the father’s face
to say he is not He checks his watch
then holds up his palms as if to show his daughter
that nothing is burning In Philadelphia
there are fires I’ve seen those in my lifetime too
Copyright © 2018 by Patrick Rosal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 23, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.