Edward Hirsch’s poem, Fall, is one of the most beautiful autumnal poems I’ve read. Read more »
So far, I’ve managed to forget Father’s Day every single time. This year, I’ve been reminded a few times in the past week that Father’s Day is this weekend. Poems that I had read in the past year about fathers seemed an appropriate way to mark the day.
I read this poem in a collection that I don’t remember. But the poem immediately left its mark. I’ve often wondered about the casual indifference with which we treat our parents or at least, I treat mine. I often wonder of the things they’ve done to ensure that I had a good childhood. While my father wasn’t a blue collar worker and we didn’t live in cold places, his love for me was lonely in its own way. I can’t get over the phrase “of love’s austere and lonely offices”.
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices? – Those Winter Sundays, Robert Hayden
I’ve often been surprised by how much I imitate my father. The way I brush the hair off Maya’s face, the way I hug her, the way I read to her. Sometimes in a moment of the act, I find myself remembering my father and my action was a faint, distant echo of his. Even in the ways I’m different, its as if my action is the opposite of what he did. Not different, but the deliberate opposite. I wonder about the things that I mocked him about. I came across Edward’s Hirsch’s poem in the recently released collection of his life’s works, “The Living Fire“. Reading it, I was left wondering again how much I am my father’s son.
I used to mock my father and his chumsfor getting up early on Sunday morningand drinking coffee at a local spotbut now I’m one of those chumps.
No one cares about my old humiliationsbut they go on dragging through my sleeplike a string of empty tin cans rattlingbehind an abandoned car.
It’s like this: just when you thinkyou have forgotten that red-haired girlwho left you stranded in a parking lotforty years ago, you wake up
early enough to see her disappearingaround the corner of your dreamon someone else’s motorcycleroaring onto the highway at sunrise.
And so now I’m sitting in a dimly litcafé full of early morning riserswhere the windows are covered with sootand the coffee is warm and bitter. – Early Sunday Morning, Edward Hirsch
This last one is special for two reasons. It is a poem by my current favorite poet, W.S. Merwin. The other reason maybe clear from the poem itself. Many people say that after reading this poem, they’re moved to reconnect with their fathers. Bill Moyers, the respected journalist and public commentator had this to say after hearing Merwin read the poem: “I have missed my father often since his death in the 1990s. But I never missed him more so than when I heard you read that.” I think of my father, far away and alone and sometimes wonder about the choices I’ve made. The cost of those choices and who gets to pay them.
My friend says I was not a good son
I say yes I understand
he says I did not go
to see my parents very often you know
and I say yes I know
even when I was living in the same city he says
maybe I would go there once
a month or maybe even less
I say oh yes
he says the last time I went to see my father
I say the last time I saw my father
he says the last time I saw my father
he was asking me about my life
how I was making out and he
went into the next room
to get something to give me
oh I say
feeling again the cold
of my father’s hand the last time
he says and my father turned
in the doorway and saw me
look at my wristwatch and he
said you know I would like you to stay
and talk with me
oh yes I say
but if you are busy he said
I don’t want you to feel that you
just because I’m here
I say nothing
he says my father
you have important work you are doing
or maybe you should be seeing
somebody I don’t want to keep you
I look out the window
my friend is older than I am
he says and I told my father it was so
and I got up and left him then
though there was nowhere I had to go
and nothing I had to do – Yesterday, W.S. Merwin
Sylvia Plath never really got over her father’s death. He died when she was just eight. In her most famous poem in which she speaks of how she tried killing herself over her never ending sorrow of his death, she writes:
Bit my pretty red heart in two.I was ten when they buried you.At twenty I tried to dieAnd get back, back, back to you.I thought even the bones would do.
But they pulled me out of the sack,And they stuck me together with glue.And then I knew what to do.I made a model of you,A man in black with a Meinkampf look – Daddy, Sylvia Plath
And finally, she curses him with one of the most quoted stanzas in poetry:
There’s a stake in your fat black heartAnd the villagers never liked you.They are dancing and stamping on you.They always knew it was you.Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through. – Daddy, Sylvia Plath
So, do I have any lighter poems to celebrate Father’s Day ? This poem, by Edgar Albert Guest, somehow makes me think that this is how Maya will remember me.
My father knows the proper wayThe nation should be run;He tells us children every dayJust what should now be done.He knows the way to fix the trusts,He has a simple plan;But if the furnace needs repairs,We have to hire a man.
My father, in a day or twoCould land big thieves in jail;There’s nothing that he cannot do,He knows no word like “fail.”“Our confidence” he would restore,Of that there is no doubt;But if there is a chair to mend,We have to send it out.
All public questions that arise,He settles on the spot;He waits not till the tumult dies,But grabs it while it’s hot.In matters of finance he canTell Congress what to do;But, O, he finds it hard to meetHis bills as they fall due.
It almost makes him sick to readThe things law-makers say;Why, father’s just the man they need,He never goes astray.All wars he’d very quickly end,As fast as I can write it;But when a neighbor starts a fuss,’Tis mother has to fight it.
In conversation father canDo many wondrous things;He’s built upon a wiser planThan presidents or kings.He knows the ins and outs of eachAnd every deep transaction;We look to him for theories,But look to ma for action. – Father, Edgar Albert Guest.
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