Thursday, January 3, 2019

Poem for Dad on 70th Birthday

Love, Dad

I thought I knew my father best on the handball court;
watching him down below from balconies as a boy,
his muscular body coiled to strike the hard black ball
as it wrapped around the white cement back wall.

I also knew my father in suits and ties.
The smell of his cologne.
The power of his hugs when he finally got home.

I knew my father by his sighs
and darting glances
that told me I’d lost his attention,
temporarily passed from his field of vision.

I knew him by his boxy squared off printed letters.
And his looping baroque cursive.
Love Dad, Love Dad, he always signed his notes and presents,
tracing my finger tip over the black ink.

I knew my father when his hair began to turn;
senatorial gray temples
and then a moon white silver.
I knew him by the slight limp
that deliberated into a mechanical lumbering
after he got his new knees.

I could write a paragraph on his golf swing.
His forehand slice down the line
The perfect way he parted his hair
His tiny razor teeth
His famous impatience
His unwavering self belief.  
I knew him by his strength
His courage
His indefatigable will.
But I also knew him by
his frauds and flaws and faults.
And I said to myself: these are the main things to know.

But now I know I knew him least of all.
These things I decided I knew
were both true and untrue,
real and imagined.
There is too much to know.
The mind must make decisions
which then become barriers
to the only knowns that matter.

Just as a child doesn’t choose the things he remembers,
all fathers and sons
just sort of end up with each other
without much say in the matter.
Over time they see only reflections
of themselves in each other
instead of the flickering glint of glorious light
that was there from the beginning.

All that he is, I am not.
And all that he’s not, I’m always claiming to be.
And so the stories they tell about dad and son
are just the stories they’ve been meaning to tell
about their own respective selves.
A conjured cloud of unknowing,
a long wasted prelude,
to an ending that was there all along.

A father just wants to be followed.
And the son just wants to be seen.
Why does it take so long
for them to see that this is just
two sides of the same old thing,
opposite faces of the truest,
most natural species of love?

Maybe I did know him best of all
down there on the courts, years ago
surrounded by four cement walls,
my eyes wide in wonder and awe.
And maybe that’s when he knew me best,
turning to point to his son in the balcony
after an ace or a hustling dig,
his face young and unhurried,
his own eyes wide in wonder and awe,
to have his boy, here, watching it all
right here between these four walls.

The father gives life
And the son receives.
And the father now sees that he is seen,
that he is known,
by a boy who carries the same fire
the same spark in his eye
that someday he will find
in a boy of his own.