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)

Survivor

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car and tree

My busy day paused,
gassing up the car,
I waited as the gallons flowed
and clicked to a stop,

and ready to go,
I slowly drove
toward the busy street

when the sudden crush
of limb and leaf,
held me on the edge ­—
wondering

how a dying tree’s
green embrace
cradled me
in my shattered car,
unscathed.

It Happens

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I can see it coming,
small in the distance
just a spot at first,

but I know
it’s coming for me
sure-air, clear
cross-hairs
frame my soul,
zero-in
on my languid pen

til, joyfully I bolt
for the house, tear
through dark rooms,
turn on my dim light,
and breathlessly wait
for the poem
to strike.

Lament for the Children of Syria

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“We must begin by frankly admitting that the first place in which to go looking for the world is not outside us but in ourselves. We are the world.” Thomas Merton

I do not seek you
where the children peer
into the burning night;

fire, false dawn
consumes their eyes,
rages through thin skin.

I do not know
where you go when
the gas softly flows
through the shelter;

have you left us here
in this veil of tears, fear-
full and alone?

Oh, where may I seek you
but in this green shade
of whitened bone

(1 October 2013)