Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


Mr. Chairman Takes His Leave

As to me, I know of nothing else but miracles.
Walt Whitman 

 en memoria William Rashall Sinkin, 1913–2014 

Whitman, you once told me, is democracy on the page, messy 
and imperfect as we are in real life, which gave you hope 

that we would one day make real life true democracy, ripe blossom,
pollen dusting every moment and person, each scampering mote of light. 

This is why as you lay dying, I read “I Hear America Singing”
and knew you heard every word and could feel my hand on yours 

though you were already moving toward other miracles than this life.
A sunflower followed your motion and a yellow dog stood guard. 

You, who lived the notion that the sun belongs to each and every one,
beggars, dreamers, kings, all. You who believed banks could have hearts, 

for gods sake! You have left it to us, messy and imperfect
as we are and will be, to keep to the work side by side 

and as long as it takes, all the while singing of miracles
just as Whitman and you taught us to do. Meanwhile, you 

were last seen wearing blue-plaid pajamas, a contrasting
blue-plaid bow tie, and surrounded by hummingbirds. 

Hummingbirds leave Texas in early February, migrating north
to make new lives. The angle of the sun tells them precisely when 

to take their leave. They arrive thousands of miles away
in mid-May, about the time of your birthday. A sunflower 

follows your motion. The yellow dog stands guard.

Credit


Copyright © 2022 by Rosemary Catacalos. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 13, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem


“This poem is a tribute to my former father-in-law, Bill Sinkin, who was a centenarian community leader, progressive entrepreneur, and environmental activist in San Antonio, Texas. (The family called him Mr. Chairman.) The poem is not an elegy because it is not largely mournful. On the contrary, it lauds Bill’s life and work, holding out the greatest hopes for how they might continue. It is a joyful song, celebrating how Bill’s energies remain among us, and also move with him to a new realm.”
Rosemary Catacalos

Author


Rosemary Catacalos

Rosemary Catacalos was born in St. Petersburg, Florida but was raised in eastern San Antonio, Texas. Catacalos was of Greek and Mexican descent. She moved to San Francisco in 1989 for a Stegner Creative Writing Fellowship at Stanford University and remained there to direct the Poetry Center at San Francisco State University for a decade before returning to her native city.

Catacalos was the author of three poetry collections, including Again for the First Time (Tooth of Time Books, 1984), winner of the 1985 Texas Institute of Letters Poetry Prize. The collection was rereleased by Wings Press in 2013 as a thirtieth-anniversary edition, with a foreword by friend and fellow poet Naomi Shihab Nye, and an afterword by Arthur Sze. A posthumous collection, Sing the ¡!, is expected to be released after Catacalos’s former colleague, Jim LaVilla-Havelin, edits the manuscript and finds a publisher. 

Catacalos received a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1993 and became the first Latina to serve as Texas Poet Laureate in 2013. She was also the recipient of a Dobie Paisano Fellowship and was featured in The Best American Poetry

In addition to serving as the former executive director of the Poetry Center/American Poetry Archives at San Francisco State University, Catacalos became the executive director of the literary organization Gemini Ink in San Antonio, where she extended the Writers in Communities program, which included working with incarcerated youth. Additionally, Catacalos served the Texas Commission for the Arts, was a Poetry Out Loud judge, and was employed as a newspaper reporter and arts columnist, a grant reviewer, a development officer for nonprofit organizations, and a creative writing instructor. From 1986–89, she was the literature program director at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, where she developed the San Antonio Inter-American Book Fair. 

Catacalos died of lung cancer on June 17, 2022 after battling the illness for seven years. She was seventy-eight. 

Date Published: 2022-04-13

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/mr-chairman-takes-his-leave