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.

Advertisements

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.

The rest is up to him…

A Notebook

In 1922 John wrote on the first page
of a one hundred page notebook
that his boy had been born that morning;
he was fine with ten toes and fingers,
a good, strong cry easily silenced by feeding,
and a shock of jet black, fine hair atop,
and mother was well as well; each year
on the February day he jotted such
observations – brief, some would call terse,
taking just a few lines of the entire page;
walking now and into trouble often,
always asking questions – unanswerable,
outgrew pants before ruining them,
doing well in school, likes math the best;
all through the hardest of human days
for those who care for their own,
but no words about such things,
and never an explicit word of love,
just the obvious things of appetite
(insatiable and costly), growth (average),
friends (just a few), baseball (likes),
school (better than most, he supposes);
then the army when everyone did the same,
letters home and a photo in uniform
from the Atlantic, then France
and so many were lost but he was fine
and coming home; back to school, a girl,
he’d proposed, they were married
and the notebook stopped just
a quarter way through;
the rest was up to him, obviously.

He might have been god…

The Name of God

I never knew the name of the man in the red vest,
with seven pockets and a knife sharpened pencil,
fingers dirtied with iron dust from picking nails,
clipping lengths of rope or showing men how-to
just about everything there is to-do that drove them
to the hardware store early on a Saturday morning,
every Saturday morning with my father who looks
and carefully lingers, sorting through nuts and bolts
waiting for our turn to ask about the broken part
dirtying my Dad’s palm and me wondering why
my father who knew everything didn’t know this;
I stared at the man’s boots that looked like
they were never new, his navy blue pants with
bottom inch turned-up into a cuff holding sawdust
as he told, then showed Dad the how-to to-do
and I nodded along with them like I understood it all;
I never knew his name, but it might have been God.

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.