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)

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After Christmas

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Photo, Brian Federle: Desert Tree, Palm Springs, Dec. 2016.

After Christmas
life persists, though
the bare trees are
dancing with death,

their leaves ripped
from living flesh;
disincarnate,they wait
for the storm.

So how, then, can I endure?

I live that day every day,
clenched fists pounding
my penitent heart, crying
Mea culpa! Mea culpa!

What kind of a father am I,
absent at the hour of your need?

Oh, forgive me, my son!

Surely tomorrow
the rain will come.

(28 Dec. 2018)

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

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?

(11/24/1978)

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)

Lovesong

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I will be there always
even though you don’t know me.

My life will shine in your eyes,
O child of my child.

With your small, quick breaths
I will breathe again,
and when you cry
my faithful heart will again break.

So look for me in the still, high trees;
the green brilliance of the winking sun
will be our secret signal.

You don’t know me, but
your soul, your golden love,
your fears and hopes
I will keep safe in my heart,

and in the soft wind will I sing to you
O beautiful child.
I will guard you
as you play.

Look up at dancing spring clouds
and shout your joy skyward
to me!

(8 December 2010)

The Other Brother

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It was a hot day in the field
when, returning at last
bone-tired, sore from
tending your stiff-necked flock,
I saw bonfires,
extravagant blazes lighting
the way to our house,

but not for me
home late from
work,

so I asked your servant
“why such celebration?”

That’s when my anger exploded;
…poor fellow, he bore my rage
and yelping away
cried it wasn’t his fault!

No, it wasn’t.
It isn’t.

It’s You.

You ask me to obey
and obediently I honor you every day.
With sweat and callused hands,
I cajole this stingy land
to give up a little wheat.
With my blood
I water these fields;

but when I wanted to show
my friends a little generosity,
I asked you for a stingy goat,
a meager feast, and
you said “no.”

So here he is, come home at last,
profligate brother…prodigal,
wastrel, drunkard,
sinner!

He’s back
and suddenly the prize calf
I worked so hard to make so fat is slain,
a royal feast for your favorite son
(though somewhat late) come home again!

But,

as always
my anger fades
in the glow of your summer love.

I don’t like this!

but you tell me
that your love does not diminish
but increases with the giving…

and, after all,
it is not every day that one’s brother
is to life recalled.

So for you, father,
I’ll look him in the eye
and let him back
into my life.

(8/11/2013)

November 1978

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i.
November lies in wait, violent month
stripping life from the garden
wind ripping leaves from living trees.

So much can happen after the harvest,
life can be broken,
the grave made rich.

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ii
Kennedy rode exposed in the cold Dallas sun
when a bullet ripped the November air, and
dark winds ran riot through fields of heaven,

dirty cyclones scattering dust
into our stinging eyes

and we cried under the black crepe
draped over blank, empty windows.

Corpses from the Jonestown Massacre of 1978

iii
November, 1978, loomed large
in the twilight haze as we waited
and uneasily watched the news.

In thirsty Jonestown
the November heat swelled
the bodies of black children,
huddled in the arms of still mothers,
empty paper cups strewn on the ground
dripping purple Kool-Aid, happy drink for a hot day,
poisoned with bitter megalomania.

The stench of fear
permeated Geary Boulevard,
filling the looming, empty halls
of the People’s Temple.

Protected by the glass wall of my television
I observed this distant slaughter
my eyes spared from the sting
of personal tears.

iv
But November soon became personal,
and quickly took my father
and left me stunned,
empty and cold as frozen Ohio.

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Bad comes in threes,
and in my rented car,
on the way home from the cemetery,
I heard of bloody mayhem in San Francisco,
madness splattering City Hall,
in the thick blood of Moscone and Milk,
struck down on a cloudy
November day.