Three Poems for My Father

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Overcast in Oregon
Photo: Brian Federle, Overcast in Oregon
…on the 40th anniversary of my father’s death

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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?

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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.

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

(11/24/1978)

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Contact

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I search the narrow rooms of memory
through steep, childhood hallways
under high ceilings, past dim, flowered lamps,
when, trembling, I hear echoes calling me
in deep tones of summer thunder
to our willow tree out back
just as the blinding lightning
contacts
and shatters the still-living wood.

Afraid,

but compelled by my father’s gentle voice,
I retreat
to another room
in my mind.

In the kitchen, at the top of the long, painted staircase,
I hear small, shrill squeaks and low, electric hums
coming from your ham radio set,
and walking down, I see you,
hunched in the red glow
of your magic box, calling softly
into your silver microphone,
“W8PNW calling CQ, calling CQ, calling CQ”

O lonely angler, you cast gossamer lines into the eternal, black sea
looking for a catch, any response, any acknowledgement,
but I’m with you! Standing by your shoulders,
I hear the distant human voice respond
“K8QJZ to W8PNW, receiving you loud and clear!”

I feel your joy of connection
as, quickly you fill out your special postcard,
(American Bald Eagles triumphantly unfurling your call letters)
to mail to your Newfoundland friend.

This, too, is contact.

Another soul found, identified, and filed
in your list of ham-buddies, and I grin with you
as you sign off
and resume your patient search.

(7/14/2010)

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 2011/11-2017)

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, 3/4/1986:3/25/2017)

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.