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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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)

At the Death of a Young Girl

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“We cannot find Him unless we know we need Him.” Thomas Merton

I see its raw fury clawing at her hands,
Kissing her sallow face with lies so perfect on silk pillows,
Concealing raw, gaping wounds inside, the insult
The harsh silence, the enforced peace.
I have seen all this before, this beast, this darkness, this indifference
To waves of anguish washing through the room
As her mother weeps, and her father strokes
Her dark, perfect hair.
I see her, and
I know.

But what am I to say to their terror? These children
Look at me, questioning … after all,
I am their teacher…
But why did she die?, well, asthma… breath denied… but why?

I know this insistent knot, this question piercing my gut,
And I want to hide in silence, but questions will not be denied,
And I know their questions, all of them…
So what am I to say to calm their red, flowing eyes,
These, my poor, dark flowers, piercing me with their tears?

Faith.
Yes, read the book to them…Lazarus found out… faith…
Promises were made, now to be made good.
Yes, faith… what else is there but
Faith?
And so we say the rosary,
And we go on.

(12/15/2012)

To My Wife in Mourning

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1971486

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)

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)

My Sister’s Birthday

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We watch as toddlers
run squealing through the house,
laughter bounding through bright halls,
a knee-level storm of pure joy.

They punctuate our grown-up conversation
as the slide-show begins.

Now you’re the bright eyed infant!

Mom was so young and pretty
Holding you close
in her strong, gleaming arms,

as the cousins, delighted, cry
“Look! Grandma’s a baby!”

In wonder we watch
the years of youth and school
love and weddings
and bright new babies,

pause on the haunting eyes
of those gentle people
whom we’ve loved
then lost
to the good night.

As your party continues,
I see in the eyes
of four generations,
a century’s worth
of smiling for the camera
a cloud of love
transcending both years and death.

So don’t worry about your age, dear sister.
clearly
we never really grow old.

Mass

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If I trust You, everything else will become, for me, strength, health, and support. Everything will bring me to heaven. If I do not trust You, everything will be my destruction.   Thomas Merton Thoughts in Solitude

When it begins
music plays and we sing
songs of gathering, greeting.

This, then, is the family complete,
assembled around the table
ready for the thanksgiving feast.

Why can’t we just stay
innocent,
present?

We tell the stories of youth,
laugh at self-folly, glad at last
to tell the truth,

but soon we feel the pain
of separation, of nails
driven deep
beneath our tender skin:

his heart breaks; cancer invades
her beloved body
and we can only stare
at vacant crossings,
bereft, 

alone,

until You speak.

Believing beyond reason,
we feel the bread, deep down,
subsumed
into our very guts, spreading
unreasonable warmth
and comfort
and joy!

We cannot understand such power
but without it
our lives
would cease.