I wrote a poem for my father, about how one afternoon the oddly green ’57 Caddy appeared in the driveway and he polished its chrome for hours, even waxed the black bumper bullets. It was the love of his life he said, except for his wife, he added after a moment. The years would prove that addition was most likely false. I could send him the poem, he might actually read it, he would remember the Caddy, much as he now remembers my mother, with a fondness that fills the voids in his fading memory. He is not much for poetry, never was, wasn’t all that much for reading and poetry had to rhyme, at least the good ones did, but while he agrees with Hecht, he would no more recognize that name than that of Amichai, even rewritten in the grating hand of Ted Hughes. My father does not understand poetry, does not understand all that much these days and what little he does bears constant repetition, and yet he remembers well odd bits and pieces and forms them into his own fictions that become momentary realities. He is Brodsky rewriting Mandelstam, a new Tristia, sharing only a name with its precursor, but one its author claims is truest to its origin. My poem will be tucked away inside a yellowing journal, his Caddy is rust and scrap, but in his dreams he carefully polishes the chrome and waxes the bumper bullets.
First appeared in The Alchemy Spoon, Issue 1, Summer 2020
He can remember it as though it was just yesterday. Actually it was just yesterday, but for him that had little to do with memory. Bits of his childhood would come flooding back: the city, the cousins who took him in for the few dollars his mother could offer. But his grandsons are a vague shadow, sometimes present, sometimes faded into the background. He ex-wife is ever present, and he clings to her, despite her death, wondering if they will get back together. I don’t want to tell him that his wish will require a firm belief by them both in a hereafter, and that neither of them was very good at directions in any event, so who knows where they will end up.
We now live in a strange world where nothing is as it was mere weeks ago. I am blessed to live on a small nature preserve and have been spending my afternoons with camera in hand. So if you want something other than words (which follow) you are welcome to visit https://www.flickr.com/photos/98342503@N00/, my Flickr site, which is updated daily. A sample of what you will find:
It seems odd how often our fathers depart suddenly, our mothers make a slower retreat, slipping away while always still present, a death by 1000 days, the cuts inflicted on our psyche, small wounds that never fully heal, but fade, so the scars are only seen and felt from the inside. My parents never did things as expected, so my mother complained bitterly of the small difficulties of life, until the morning she suddenly departed, at the stroke of 6:15 while my father lingers, still happy in ever shortening increments, both of us knowing he is fading away and I may never know he has departed after he is gone.
Like most you believe that if it is worth remembering you will, that memory is keyed to some measure of value and if you forget that value had diminished without your noticing. You accept this as a sort of gospel truth for you cannot recall that you once rejected this argument out of hand, for that has slipped way from memory and lies valueless and withering on the synaptic scrap heap. You are certain you had a childhood but just as certain you were thoughtless until age three when life came rushing in remarkable fits and starts bridged by chasms of nothing though you fear that some memories may be slipping into the abyss even as you deny that possibility.
She plucks the odd loose thread puts it on the table and finds another and a bit of what could be twine. She weaves them together loosely, with seeming abandon until they are an ill formed braid barely hanging together, a jumble of color and fabric, a true hodge-podge. But when she says to all of us gathered, “look at the amazing tapestry I have woven, we all nod approvingly and for a moment, when we look away, we see the intricate story she sees so clearly and believes she has so carefully told.
I speak to my father every week or so our conversations are as long as ever but we are rapidly becoming little more than a skipping record. He mostly recalls my name and the various parts one with the other of us has had rebuilt but even that is quickly slipping into the fog that is rapidly settling over him and we both know of the one part for which there is no repair or replacement.
Tomorrow I will lie to him will tell him when he asks, at least the first ten times he he does, that she is doing fine, that she is a tough old bird, that she’ll outlive us all, that she’s a Taurus, the bull and he will remember the end of their marriage, the Battle Royal that was the war of divorce, and he will smile a bit, and say, “I miss her,” and I will agree with him. I do miss her a bit, but even two and a half years of death have not grown the size of my missing appreciably. We will move on to other topics, will circle back and rerun the tape for with him every day is a series of scenes from Groundhog Day, but in his world, it never snows.
I’ll be there soon, so hang in there just a bit longer. I do want to meet the beautiful young woman you mentioned in our calls, or is there more than one, because while your vision is supposed to be good, it seems almost all women younger than a certain ever-increasing age are now beautiful to you. I don’t want to tell you I’m coming, you’d forget anyway, and it could agitate you, so I’ll just show up and hope you remember me or can cover well, and we’ll visit. I know the week after we see each other you’ll ask when I’m coming to see you, and like I have for years, I’ll say, “Soon, dad” and I know you’ll be smiling in anticipation.
The old bus shelter has spray painted walls and a broken metal bench. Each morning he shuffles up the hill, a battered leatherette briefcase clutched tightly in his right hand, a copy of the Seattle Times “Nixon in China” in the other. He sits calmly on the bench case between his knees and waits patiently for the bus that hasn’t run this route for the better part of sixteen years. Still, he waits until the sun sinks behind the 7-Eleven, when he shuffles down the hill toward his small apartment satisfied with another day successfully done.