Sep20

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When I was eleven,
eleven days before my father’s birthday,
as I tiptoed up the creaking stairs at bedtime
he called me from his bed.

My boyish perspective of him
was as a somewhat mysterious being
who had existed full grown, free range and in power
forever.
Mike Tierney, Baseball Uniform
Although I had seen our family photographs
I didn’t really link the baby in them
nor the yard full of dirt and gardens
and odd bits of wood lying about
to him.

From these photographs I did understand
he was in the Navy during the war
but didn’t see any of the fighting
(which I, of course, attributed to an imaginary
undercover spycraft they needed him for)
and that he and my mother met at work
and went to the beach together.
Dad, Navy
I also suspected that quite a bit seemed to have happened
in the several years before I was around
while my brother and sisters were,
thanks to the projector and slides
that smelled of electricity and dust
he took out at intervals and the mote-filled light
he pointed at the wood panel walls.

I can recall his taking me to work in Manhattan
down through dark and dingy subways and streets,
printing out pictures of Snoopy for me
made up of the alphabet in unlikely formations
by machines of great size and noise
using paper with alternating bars of white and green.
Dad & Buddies, Central Park
And our trip to the Museum of Natural History
early one Sunday morning, so early the museum was far from open.
He talked a man cleaning out a side street bar
into giving us two short bottles of White Rock cola
which we carried back to the museum steps
and sat drinking, sweet and warm,
while he pointed out places in the park he used to play
and the architecture of buildings that stood coldly around us.

On this eleventh day before my birthday,
I can see my father sitting upstate in an Adirondack chair
a blanket covering his legs and keeping him warm
in stuffy summer air
with The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich in his lap.

I can remember walking from the bedroom steps
to him after his call
and his blue, blue eyes looking at mine.

I can feel his thin arm reaching around my shoulder,
his kiss on my head,
his “Goodnight, Johnny”
and his hug longer than expected.

I can look back over my shoulder
his eyes still on mine
while I climbed the stairs to bed

just before cancer won the day.

Tonight,
On this eleventh day before my birthday,
the same birthday my father was approaching when I was eleven,
as I climb the creaking steps
to my own children’s bedrooms
I will think of his kiss
and I will kiss their clear, sweet faces
as they sleep.


Upstate, 1974 Upstate, 2012

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2 Comments

  • avatar

    Comment by Mairead — September 28, 2012 @ 11:54 am

    Beautiful – your words and memories of your father resonate with emotion. Thank you for painting such a wonderful picture in words. On “the eleventh day before your birthday” a singular moment in time anchored your memories of your father. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  • avatar

    Comment by John — September 28, 2012 @ 2:18 pm

    Thank you, Mairead!

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