Thursday, June 17, 2010

Finding Shelter

Photo by Katy Brown, Davis

—Jane Blue, Sacramento

Agapanthus and hydrangeas blue in the yard.
That’s the verb blue. Also called Lily of the Nile
agapanthus is so tough it sits out in traffic.
You would too if it would bring him back.
A girl’s lost father is like a lover disappearing
into the night, into his necessary, manly adventures.

And you think how you were an adventuress.
You could have worked for Scotland Yard.
Everything you knew about him, the disappeared,
you gleaned from stories, ships chugging down the Nile,
in books meant for boys, that he left behind.
Forgetting your horrible seasickness, you trafficked

in lies. At 14 you read Conrad’s Victory, bartering
your good-girl name, you ventured,
smoking Camels until one in the morning, your spine
slouched in your grandmother’s chair. The Nile Star
shone red. An all-girl orchestra played under the yardarm,
enisled in that male domain, that backwater.

There was a leap into the sea. The last
time you saw him he was in uniform, being shipped
to England. (Could have been the White Nile or the Green
for all you knew.) You wanted to follow, adventurous.
Someone later gave you a mystery, yardstick
of his distance. His name (your name) on the spine.

The detective read Keats and Shelley, spineless
he thought; he thought poetry an illness, disappearing
into an asylum, locked windows, a courtyard
below; the tiny people, the honking traffic.
He looked for a way out. His adventures
were almost over, the walls a soothing Nile Green.

Someone sent a picture of him in olive drab,
a bucket helmet on his head, on the back
inscribed: nothing. This was before the adventure
of your birth. Even then he was always disappearing.
Later he wrote of intrigue, of conspiracy.
In the last flyleaf glossy he seems plain washed up.

You dig in the yard, nearly uprooting agapanthus.
Traffic passes. Nothing will bring him back
from that last disappearing act, that last plunge.


—Tom Goff, Carmichael

He grew up in Phoenix, brother to four sisters
who doted on him, yet he knew what blisters
were, in work of all kinds: he made surveyor,
was a teacher, had plans to become a purveyor
in a self-raised emporium of car parts
and tires. He dreamed mercantile arts
he never mastered; but this was the Depression,
the lie to his restless visions of progression.
Still, his family, tucked inside a brick house
—and city their forebears in small part endowed—
led by a widowed teacher-mother, had
amenities past the need of staying clad
and fed. One sister painted, all knew music
clanked out on the piano in chord-slews, thick-
voiced, of “He walks with me, and He talks with me”;
many such hymns, they were a religious bunch
always, and had lived lives mingled with church
since Arizona Territory days.
But never solemn; they had social ways,
voices neither too soft nor loud. He went
on, poor or middling well off, to learn, to invent
whatever he could, be it the crude tall desk
hand-sawed and lathed in junior high: that task
wound up in my room a few homes later.
But he was good with his hands; he didn’t crater
every project, far from it: a small square cupola
topped the garage roof. Not hollow, to enfold a
songbird brood inside, but of that ilk,
neatly barn-red and roofed, with trim like milk.
He played piano by ear, Rachmaninoff
and Chopin preludes; okay, the easy stuff.
He taught junior-high science, brought home books
that murmured of Mexico, led us on looks
into the Grand Canyon, Bryce and Zion.
When traveling, he was curious to spy on
or spy out the place’s local oddments, each.
He’d pronounce, “There’s nothing like a Utah peach”:
and lo, sweet crisp-edged juice ran down our chins.
His hard life gave us our easier one, and kin
the length of the cactus state, plus parts beyond.
He sized up teaching credentials, woebegone
and yet successful, for the Department of Ed.
Some speak of accreditation teams he led.
He fought down anger. He was a decent man.
I wish I remembered his voice. I still try if I can.


—Carl Bernard Schwartz, Sacramento

A veteran SeaBee, he had performed semaphore
under fire in the invasion of Normandy,
and shared with us only a legacy of silence
about those unspeakable wartime events.

Sitting in his ham shack area of the garage
beneath the “I quit” sign on the bucket of
pipes and tobacco hung in the rafters, surrounded
by a collection of historical license plates,
he would tune his squeaky receiver up and down
and start tapping code, tapping code,
copying the response by hand: 22 words a minute
of small talk over great distances.

Fearing a repeat of the Great Depression,
his garage was an overstocked warehouse
of tools, hardware, gadgets, spare parts for
things that no longer existed—remember
vacuum tubes?—and multiple projects
half begun.

A bit stingy with praise, he was a committed
do-it-yourselfer, always reluctant to hire
someone else to do a job. Ironically,
the man hired to conduct his funeral failed to show,
so I read the prayers myself in faltering Hebrew,
feeling the whole time as if dad was nodding
his silent approval.


For some people out there I feel really "bad"
if Michael Jackson had been your dad
(sad also if you were even related to the "wacko")
Or some other flashy pop star
for Dads’ concerns shouldn't be about being "cool"
(considering so many Dads wear "old" clothes till they wear out)
nor care if they have unfashionable ties or sweaters
But they do make sure they pay their bills
and put their earnings to save in the bank
and not rack up personal debt
He puts away his desires to buy his own big boy toys
to put his own kids' wants and needs first
Maybe they don't know a lot of the latest rock and roll
and many times are considered outright "boring" too
but actually such Dads do know relevant things
such as they shouldn't act like Peter Pan
and not to abuse alcohol or drugs
and to set a behavior example for his children
Such a Dad who cares
also nurtures along with his children’s mom
making sure that she truly is not left alone
even if he works hard all day outside the home
and act as Mom’s companion
as well as a co-resolver of family issues
rather than turn one child against another

—Michelle Kunert, Sacramento


Portrait of My Father
—Mitz Sackman, Murphys

In the fog we drift hither and yon
Over dark water
At last the little boat finds shelter
—Lu Yu

In a city by the sea
He grew to manhood
Hearing the call of the water
A father and a sailor
Often absent as a father
Called to the sea
Leaving family behind to wait
In the fog we drift hither and yon

When home he enjoyed teaching
Rounding us up in front
Of the downstairs blackboard
To explain some arcane fact
About mathematics or world history
Bring new stimulus home
Until duty called him
Once again to travel
Over dark waters

After years of illness
Living in a rest home in Carmel
He will never go to sea again
In a silent grave he lies
His body buried near the harbor
At last the little boat find shelter


Today's LittleNip:

The time not to become a father is eighteen years before a war.

—E.B. White


—Medusa (with thanks for today's Dad poems—keep 'em coming!—including Jane's sestina which she says she's "never had the nerve to publish before")

Famous Dads, Cont.