Farewell, Father


The sky without my father

Is too bright; there are now no gentle clouds

To soften the glare of my own ending.

The voice of my thunder god

Has faded to ashen echoes and memories of high twirling.

As a child I climbed his back

Pulled his hair

Explored his ears...

Now I have out-climbed his falling mountain

The white of spirit and black of flesh have softened to gray...

He and I have become dominoes at his passing.

This larger pattern of falling may be pleasing to nature

But his fall --

His slow fade of releasing light --

For that I reserve the right to rail

At the first commandment carved on the womb:

Who we love we will watch die

Who love us will watch us die…

My loss is as deep as my love

And the agony of this endless ending

Is a hard price to pay

For such tenderness.

There is a cycle of life, perhaps

Our flesh may be born again

Our hair, eyes, stories, watches even -- passed on

We are circular winds of starlight

A larger pattern of falling pieces

But --

But so little of what matters to us

Is bound in mere matter…

We are deep layers of meaning

Our bodies are like prehistoric insects

Our histories drown them

In lakes of clear amber.

At death, the lake, the amber;

The deepest lacquer of our visible souls

Dries, vanishes, ashes in a whirlwind of blind renewal

And the body – the least important footnote of our histories –

That is recycled!

And the earth, which could wake and wonder at our memories

Dumbly accepts our shells

And calls itself content.

Now we know, really know of this loss

Tell me: why do we love?

There is a kind of immortality in detachment

  (never feeling a death before our own --

   it could remain a surprise, an accident,

   a careening bus with a black cloak at the wheel…)

Or, knowing the wild grief of this falling

Would our love twist with the terror of impending loss?

Would such natural flowers wilt in the heat of our possessive greenhouses?

Life needs a balance -

No death would be no planning, no growth

Death too close would be no discipline, no sacrifice

 -- for who does taxes in darkened hospitals? --

To live right, we must remember death at a distance...

Neither embrace nor evict it…

In the face of death

Neither a monk nor a wanton be

Death is the sibling of life

Not stalking

But approaching.

The seasons lie to us -- it is understandable

As children, we gaze up the flowing rungs of generations

New, squalling, we imagine no ladder, but a wheel –

Life runs, the generations roll round

And we feel like great-grandparents sprung new-bundled

From an unwintered twig.

The seasons lie to us

The seasons return because they do not live…

There is no spring to our individual winters

As snow falls on our heads, so we fall from life

To the endless ice of history.

So much is lost

Of course I remember you

But only as I saw you, as the beach knows the footprints

But not the foot

The surf

But not the ocean.

A thousand books a day could not contain your thoughts

I can keep only impressions

Not essentials.

When my father fell, his past fell

A burning map of where and what he had built

The constructed children of his calloused fingers

-- as important, perhaps, as those of his loins --

His houses stand, though the hand has fallen…

I have lost

Not the memory of my father,

But my father's memory...

This thousand-story library

This infinite vein of nightly mining

How little remains!

- what his second night with my mother was like

- the dark flash of a bee that flew into his eye

- the transparent whirlpool of a reddened sunrise

- the groaning bones of his most exhausted day…

The last time he whispered a secret

Did he know it?

Did he bid farewell to secrets?

This, all this can never be known

In the endless harvest of renewal

Each stalk, each soul is an ecosystem, a world, a universe

Blindly wiped.

For this, let us mourn what we have lost

But also, now, that no father stands between us and our ending
Dominoes now fall free to our own demise

Grief is deep glass

A window to what we have lost

A mirror of what we shall lose

And, when we fall…

What others will lose

In us.

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June 2024

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