Before the Funeral

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Photo Brian Federle, Desert Mountain, Palm Springs Series, Dec. 2016

 

Mountains
surround me.

Black ridges
scrape the sky.

Raw lacerations.

Gone are the songs of
hopeful winter birds,

gone to the mountains
of the sun.

In the valley of the moon,
bitter desolation.

Father’s Lament

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Photo Brian Federle, Hawaii, 2016

Spring fills this dry land
With life, yet

I cannot see your face
or embrace you with a father’s arms
as I did when last you filled our lives
with your easy laughter
and beautiful eyes.

Shall I speak to you, tell how
small birds gather joyfully
in the budding apple tree
hungry no more,
filled with joy?

I cry out to you
and the startled birds
fall into silence,

Let me tell you, then,
Of my new life without you.

Deep in my side I feel endless pain
where my heart once beat;
now I merely breathe
emptiness.

My son, oh, where have you gone?
Call to me from the brilliant heights,

for deep in darkness I lie
crying to see you just
one more
time.

To My Wife in Mourning

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bright day,still birds, black
spots on the blue sky, slightly
sway in trees, and wait

for winter to stay
or summer at last to come
like we’re waiting for

the pain to stop, death
to give way to the winter
sun’s soft, warm embrace.

(our son, Brian Federle, 1986-2017)

She sits in the old, red chair

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She sits in the old, red chair
feet up, the red crush of the ottoman
giving rest to tired ankles.

At ninety-nine, her face is lined
and thin, cheekbones jut beneath
piercing young eyes, as hands,
thin, pale skin barely concealing
vein and bone, lie in repose in her lap

as we talk, remembering all the days
and find her mind a crystal stream
vibrant, alive with a life of love

filled with places past
and people gone.

Three Poems for My Father

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i

When I last saw you
Your hands were clenched
With a rage foreign to your voice
And you were rushing inward
Away from the moon, beyond the glowing
night
Of my grief.

Yet on my way home
I saw the moon rise.

Where have you gone, then, If not
to that land behind the moon?

ii
In the emptiness above the earth
In the terrific clashing of jet with atmosphere

I heard your new voice
I saw your new hands

Tearing at the cold, hurtling steel,
Casting off silk shroud

For dark soil
And even darker rivers.

iii
If stars loom too large
Is not my window too small?

(11/24/1980)

The Homecoming

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When you were in Vietnam
we got your letters, two or three at once
and then the whole house buzzed like a nest
of honey drunk bees as we poured over
your every word.

We kids imagined you, strong, tough,
blazing with righteous American fury
cutting down those dirty commies,

but Mom and Dad
read each letter more slowly
glancing at each other
with darker looks.

Then one day we got the recording you made,
tiny plastic reels, shiny brown tape wound
in fragile loops; your voice!
just like you were in the room, speaking
re-assuring, everyday chat about R&R
and shopping in Bangkok. Finally,
the tape nearly spent, you said that
you were coming home soon.

And one bright July morning
you came home! Your hat was rakishly tilted,
a Lucky cigarette carelessly drooping
from the corner of your grinning mouth,
all paratrooper swagger, gold braid running
through your buttoned shoulder loops,
colored ribbons and medals all over your chest.

As you walked through the door
I stood aside, awestruck, shy.
You sat like a visitor in your own home
and we opened the packages you brought for us,
Christmas in July, as one by one we held
our Asian wonders, and watched
as Mom held your hand and
Dad searched your eyes.

But you were tired, so upstairs in my room
you took a midday nap, and when Mom told me
to wake you up for supper, I nudged your shoulder
and you bolted,
breathless,
down the steps,
into the quiet street
and stood at tense attention,
(the neighbors all gawking),
as you waved your M-16
made of air
and memory,

and waited
for the morters
to fall
and kill us all.

Then the light returned to your eyes.
Slowly you walked back to the house
and gently took me by my shoulders
and told me to never,
never
touch you when you were asleep,

and I never asked you why.

(11/11/2010)

Memorial

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Summer

 
He worked nights, leaving as we climbed
the tall narrow staircase to our shared room,
up into the summer heat, the steel fan
in the hallway window
pulling cool, leafy breezes
from our waving trees.

We heard the kitchen screen-door
slap shut, the Pontiac roaring to life,
and watched as slowly he backed down
the dark driveway, and was gone.

And gladly we glided through misty dreams,
flying over tree-tops, baseball games
and cool swimming pools,

when finally the robin’s enthusiasm
and the fresh morning sun
flashing through green leaves
woke us as we heard the car stop
and Dad call cheerfully, “I’m home!”

The air already scented with bacon and coffee,
we flew down the groaning stairs,
two steps at a bound,
and eagerly started another golden
summer’s day.

 

Winter

 
One winter day I did something wrong, and
he got angry and drew his worn leather belt
From the loops of his grey, stained work trousers
To teach me a lesson.
Terrified, I ran upstairs to the big closet
and trembled behind coats and sweaters,
as heavily he came up the steps,
righteous anger ringing in his voice,
tears flowing down my cheeks;

when my big brother, teenage and strong,
called defiance to him and drew him down
into the back yard to fight him
and save me, angered by his

memory of so many other beatings,

determined to stop it now!

But facing his own father

he could not fight back, and

weeping, I watched my dad
pummel my brother’s defenseless face,
far worse than any beating
I would have gotten.

From kitchen window,
I screamed to them both
to stop!

That was when my father saw,
in the kitchen window’s glare
his own father’s angry eyes,
and felt his father’s fists

landing hard on his own face,
and he stopped and

embraced my brother.
 

 

Spring  
Seven years after my father died
my first child, my son, was born in spring,
and in the gleaming, sterile room
I first held him in my arms
as, with his impossibly wide, blue eyes
he calmy gazed right into my raw soul,
and I felt in a sudden rush of warmth,
a timeless love
and at last discovered
the reason for my life.

It was then
I understood my father.

In my son’s face I saw my own
and felt my father’s eyes gazing
in warm wonder on me
and I glowed with
unconditional love for my son.

(30 Jan 2011)