I’m posting something different today: a poem that I wrote many years ago about my father.
He died in 1997 at age 76. A few years prior to that, I began to talk with him about his childhood and his life and encouraged him to write down his stories. He wrote down many of the stories of his life in ruled notebooks.
This poem was a yearning to understand the dreams that my father had and how they were changed by his life circumstances.
Tomorrow, I will post about how my own dreams were changed by obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression.
On my father being 72
I watched my father walk through the cows.
Black Angus cows. They snorted, shifted, chewed.
He didn’t run when they knocked against him.
He never ran from them.
He climbed atop the dull red tractor,
settled into the old pillow tied to the metal seat.
He pulled away from the herd, headed to the stable,
the wagon following, me on the wagon. I was 8.
I dragged a tobacco stick in the dust below.
Last week I saw a man at the park
moving slower than the power walkers pumping by.
He wore brown slacks, was bent over like he needed a cane,
like he had left it on the bleachers to try just one lap.
I glanced up as I jogged by:
white hair, not gray,
the white of my father’s hair, his father’s.
If I listened to your quiet talk, would I hear your dreams?
The war, I used to think, did something to my father’s dreams,
Something that marred the surface
of his war stories of New Guinea, Peleliu, Japan.
As a child, I’d ask, did it hurt when you were shot?
Now, I’d ask, where did it hurt?
Was it deep inside to the little boy
who never missed church choir practice,
who whirled round and round in a wooden toy car,
who worked the fields instead of going to school?
The young soldier who dreamed his medic’s bag
was a doctor’s bag full of the right medicine,
enough suture for the ripped battlefields?
I wonder what dreams he had that night underneath the Jeep,
huddled with his friend, his lifelong friend
who wrapped his arm again and again with narrow bandages.
He could have gone to college, to medical school,
walked the halls of the hospitals.
But he came back to the tobacco fields,
to the sticks and twine and stained hands,
to pastures with cows.
He walked down the meadow strip into the corn,
into shady tunnels.
Have you ever wondered what happened to the dreams of a parent or someone else in your life?