How Will I Address Him When He's Dead

I call my father during halftime when the Irish are on TV. (Family history: my father called his father from a rotary phone screwed to the wall.) It’s good to hear my father’s voice, to have cellular access to familiar sounds: his admonishments, his praise and anger. (Memory of bedtime songs he’d sing on his guitar: I sing them to my daughter now—Phil Ochs’s “When I’m Gone” and Kenny Loggins’s “Danny’s Song.”) My grandfather, who lived in Indiana, named my father James. I rarely think about it, his having a name—my father, James.

More by Brian Phillip Whalen

Teufelsdröckh, Give Up the Ghost

for Erik

My friend, how many more occasions have we left in our steeply narrowing lives to brood over decisions like these? To write, to teach—to marry. It used to be we’d sit in bars until 3:00 am speculating cream versus half-and-half, debating French press versus good espresso with the same intensity with which we argued Carlyle versus Wordsworth

(all brazen and floral and thirsty for truths). Do you remember a morning in your kitchen, in Asheville, the year after your mother died? You ground Ethiopian Yirgacheffe while Heidi made us omelets stuffed with braised chard from her garden. The water for the press pot was not boiling.

(You were, as usual, too soon to take it off the burner.) The result, I knew, would be a weak brew. I wanted to admonish you—but as Heidi laid out mugs with her unimpugnable devotion, I only loved you as I watched you pour the water

into the beaker, ready the plunger, and wait.