I knew he’d live forever…

Knob of Pearl

I was eight, maybe nine, and it should have
changed my world to see that my father was
a mere mortal – flesh and bones and blood,
but it only made him more of a superman
to me, impervious to torn flesh and oozing
blood – deep red and opaque seeping from
the gash on his knuckle, layers of skin torn
away by a trowel as he gardened and I played
nearby; “Look,” was all he said and I peered
into his wound to see the bright white of his
bone exposed, a little knob of pearl between
the serrated opening, he bent his finger
and it danced, and for once I said nothing,
for almost fifty years; such a display should
cure the myth of paternal immortality,
but it’s effect was the exact opposite.

The day my Dad died…

June 28

It was a Monday,
hot and humid and still
while I slept away the morning
unaware of the dawn screams, begging,
the ambulance, and slowly gathering family
as everything in my young life fell apart.

I had a new clock,
plastic, yellowish, with numbers
that would flip to the next minute
and I woke to the arrival of 11:28 am
looked out my window to see a dozen cars
I didn’t not recognize or care to care about.

Everywhere I looked
people were whispering,
standing and listening and careful
and when I appeared they turned to look
but didn’t acknowledge that I was the last one
to know, to hear all that had happened.

Even before Mom
could get the words out
I started to cry, but must admit I
just knew it was Nana who had died
because she was old and getting older
but never thought it could be Dad.

He was just 49,
and important and busy,
and when he was home he was home,
with us always with him, but no more,
and an Aunt fed me weak tea and dry toast
because somehow that would help.

When Mom said that earlier…
I felt guilt, of course I loved him,
but with my last words yesterday
I’d cursed him for refusing me something,
kicking and promising my hatred,
now unchangeably my testament.

That was in 1971,
and I was young, naïve,
now wondering if I can still remember
his face, rubbing his whiskers at day’s end,
cooing love instead of what I did,
praying every day he’s forgotten my words.

A student that didn’t study…

I hated school and loved it
with the best reasons I could imagine
when I was so young,
it was everything I wanted but came
with such a painful price
of learning by unlearning, hearing
what I didn’t know to hear,
my imagination of a world constantly
spinning had to be stopped
to gain what could not be stilled,
all measured by letters and
discouraging questions trying to diagnose
what might be missing
as I failed to live up to my potential
which as they described it
was never much to aspire to,
year after year until
I walked away because I wasn’t ready
to stop the world’s whirl
and every day I missed what I lost,
every moment counted as wasted,
until the undoing of my undoing
began to take shape
and the only thing I had missed
was what I had missed.

 

I love the blank page…

It happens quite often, and I hope it never stops,
that pang of jealously that I want to feel
when I’m reading someone else’s work,
someone else’s words,
someone else’s words that I didn’t write,
and I catch myself wondering if I could,
if I could do something like that, somehow,
because I love the way these words go
and I need that on my page – the page I write;

there’s a theory, a bad theory that lies,
that it’s something that I just need to find,
or let out, or is inside me somewhere,
and no jealously is needed, no jealousy is
called for, because this is no competition
and we are all players in a bigger story
where all words are borrowed, all pages already
filled, and creativity is the lie;

but when I turn the page there’s nothing there,
until a small child bends to pluck a dandelion,
building a priceless bouquet, and
the dog keeps chasing the squirrel but never catches it,
and you start calling your children’s names into empty rooms,
sometimes at night when you sleep less than you should but
not for lack of trying, and try to remember when you
finished the things you started – like life,
and the page fills up, and then another, and another
where there was nothing there moments ago, no thoughts,
no stories, no words, and you wish to remember
the jealously that made you love the page.

I might try praying… again…

Let’s Try it Again

Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord that’s what I’ll be able to do,
sleep, because that would probably do wonders
for my soul, my health, my marriage even,
I hope; and a kept soul sounds nice,
so I’ll have one of those too,
they’re so slippery, souls that is, and
hard to keep track of or even imagine,
thus (that sounds like a ‘soul’ kind of word,
doesn’t it, ‘thus’), if the good Lord
would keep mine, I’m guessing that
I’d prefer that to having to track the
untrackableness of said soul;
now what comes next about mortality while
asleep, seems heavy-handed
don’t you think, and I wonder if any
child can appreciate the funereal muse
as they kneel bedside
dressed in warm pajamas, hair
still wet from a bath and bubbles
lingering in their ears
reciting the plea that a God who is good
would stoop to take their soul,
but as vague as that sounds,
having your soul taken seems the
best option at this point, so tonight
I might take a bubble bath
and kneel bedside like a child and
try praying again because
I’m concerned with my soul
and it would be nice to sleep well too.

What Nietzsche knew about babies…

NietzscheWow!

Nietzsche said “Love, too, has to be learned”
and we started with our first by teaching her
to say, ‘Wow’ – kissing lips opening as a fish
with a slow, drawn-out ow-ow-ow between
the magical w’s; it is a word that goes around
itself, a palindrome to embarrass all others
and she loved, absolutely loved, the joyful
surprise on adult faces as she so carefully
pronounced, over-and-over again, her word
of wonder until she broke into a smile and the
wow’s had to stop because upturned corners
of the mouth break into the world of wows
as if competing for delight, and it took her
learned discipline to recapture the lips which
would say her wonderful word ‘Wow’ and we’re
awed, every day, she knows what it means.

We don’t understand what we don’t understand…

The Nelsons - Ozzie & Harriet, David & Rickey. DESERET NEWS MORNING ARCHIVES

The Nelsons – Ozzie & Harriet, David & Rickey.
DESERET NEWS MORNING ARCHIVES

Maladaptive Adaptive

We don’t understand normal anymore,
don’t understand what’s happened, before
we’ve became the new black, the new average,
and maladaptive became all one could salvage.

Making-do and not expecting too much,
a reasonable way to cope – a sacred crutch;
lest any be forced to act out of compulsion,
a violation of will leading to convulsion.

The mushroom cloud of the family,
looms large on the horizon of the latchkey;
and any invocation of is dripping with guilt,
a poor rendering of the intricate human quilt.

This was not always our social affinity,
but an industrial product of economic viability;
accommodative adaptivity in a pragmatic vein,
we collect round the character campaign.

From Ozzie and Harriet, Ward and June,
to the village it takes to raise this tune;
we’re better off not asking too much of any
for disappointment weighs upon all heavy.

For rent… only for rent…

rent_to_own

A Psalm 23
When my mother died
I said nothing, I had
no words – me, her boy
who didn’t shut up,
couldn’t, it seemed,
and would talk her ear
off, or so she claimed,
but she died with both
intact; I don’t recall her
ever telling me to
stop, unless I missed it,
quieter but not silent;
so where were the words
now – they’re not in
the dictionary she
said she wasn’t when
asked how to spell;
so I had to borrow the
lyrics she taught me
by her own mother’s grave,
about how to see the
valley of the shadow,
fearing no evil and
trusting the Lord
was her shepherd also,
and I was just renting
her comfort today.

 

Renting, Just Renting
I am a tenant
but with roots,
a wanderer
but with reason,
a renter
but with gladness.
This was not always so,
the pleasure
of residing nowhere long,
the inconvenience
of constantly forwarding,
the uncertainty
of where to lay my head.
I was raised in a house
and moved just once
taught to buy, not rent,
to earn and possess,
to save, store and spend
only what was saved,
that credit was a debt.
But somewhere
along the path I chose
I became a lost man,
never to be found;
somewhere became
nowhere and that
was fine, just fine.
This earth is my home
but my addresses
are only where I’m found
at one moment or day;
and since I cannot
be found
I must never be lost.
I am home
wherever I am
a friend
to all who wander
a companion
to all who dream.
I am a renter.

June 28 will always be June 28…

IMG_6114

William Blyer Callahan, 1941 – just 30 years before June 28, 1971

It was a Monday back in 1971 – a steamy, lazy summer’s Monday. My clock read 11:28 AM when I finally stirred to life, and I was left to sleep, I learned, because I would never awaken this way again.

That morning my father died down the hall from my bedroom. Mother, sister and brothers had all been quickly included in the whirlwind of emergency, hopelessness and death, and I turned on my bed like a door turns on its hinges.

So it took me some time to come to grips with the story – twenty, thirty or forty years to put together what had fallen apart, irreparably, that Monday morning, June 28, 1971.

I missed the moment – slept through it literally, like so much of my life it seems. Maybe sleepwalking through life is my best way of coping, maybe it’s just by chance that I was the only one not ‘there’ and maybe my penance is this writing.

William Blyer Callahan (d. June 28, 1971)

Not So Long Ago It Seems

I was just a boy, eleven,
and in so many ways I lost
my innocence that day;
rising after eleven
on my summer vacation
to a house filled
with crying friends
and family hiding their
tears from the boy in
his terrycloth bathrobe;
greeted by my Mom
as all eyes were on us,
on stage, every chin tucked
against chest, every arm
folded, all quiet until
interrupted by the gasp
of a sob; two chairs were
where they never were so
all could see her say that
Daddy was gone, and
I cried because I thought
she was going to say it
was Nana, but it wasn’t
and I didn’t even cry
about the right thing
at first; there were no
more words that I recall
or want to, just dry toast
and weak tea as my first
meal of the rest of my life
without him and I hate
that menu still; it was so
long ago and just like it
happened today because
it did and I’ve never tried to
do anything but remember
this anniversary but
I still don’t know how
to cry about it; I don’t.

Obituaries

It’s called ‘bonus’ or at least is should
because this wasn’t expected, nor
should have been; I’m Irish and male,
for the sake of Saint Patrick, and
I should be dead by now but I’m not
and that makes this a true bonus;
I’ve outlived my own father who
saintedly passed before fifty years,
and all his friends it seems, or so
I read in the obituaries in Sunday’s
Chicago Tribune as I scan the pages
in a sobering ritual of paying homage;
now it’s only a matter of what to do
with these extra days and years.

The Human Race

It’s been a long, long time
since I’ve heard the expression,
‘the human race’ like I once
did from my father who
invoked it in the ‘60’s
vernacular of our one,
global world, nations
united and east and west
divided so clearly
all was known, though
all wasn’t safe. In his own
way I was chided to
behave civilly and not
gad about as an unevolved
Neanderthal  breathing
through his mouth;
the future of the human
race depended upon my
sitting erect, listening
politely in a play at
détente, opening doors
for all types of women,
regardless, and not wasting
food because children
were starving elsewhere.
And there was, apparently,
a membership card to
this human race than
I was continually in
danger of forfeiting
through my mostly slovenly,
sometimes disrespectful,
manners which fell to
my father to supervise
as his role in bettering
said human race
inasmuch as he was able
and I was pliable.