At the Champion Avenue Low-Income Senior & Child Care Services Center
When I told them it must be like dropping your kid
off at school their first day, all my parent friends
nodded and smiled uncomfortably, meaning
what would I know. I won’t be taking solace
in the many firsts ahead. Here among the gray,
spotted and brown heads of the seniors,
their soft flesh and angles, their obedience as they
sit as uprightly as they are able at white, parallel
tables, nobody cries, and very few speak.
When I seat dad beside her, one senior tells me
she’s ninety-four, presenting one hand, four
fingers in the air, just as she might have ninety
years ago with a stranger like me, now long gone.
Dad never liked me to talk:
Lower your voice, he’d say. If I was louder:
Put on your boxing gloves. Or: You’ll catch
more flies with honey than vinegar, as if some day
I’d need the flies. I stopped talking, started writing
instead. I work full-time and dad wants to die,
so I dropped him at the Champion Avenue
Low-income Senior & Child Care Services Center,
a newish building, municipal and nondescript,
in a neighborhood that’s been razed and rebuilt so often
it’s got no discernible character left. There was bingo,
men playing poker in a corner. Red sauce and cheese
on white bread pizza for lunch. Dad, a big talker,
was an instant hit, but refused to return. What
is the name of that animal, someone asked me.
Where is Philip, asked someone else, over and over.
As if firsts and lasts were one and the same.
Copyright © 2019 by Kathy Fagan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 15, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
“Caring for my dementing dad at my home has, over the years, offered me many new experiences, some deeply personal in nature, some very public. This poem explores both realms and also tries to speak to the inadequacy of our nation’s response to the needs of low-income children and the elderly.”