This poem is very long and I’m unable to find a copy of it online (and unwilling to type it up myself), so my photographs will be the only version of the text available.
Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of my father’s death. A lot of the family commemorated the day by going to Mass together and visiting his grave. Living several states away, I was unable to join my mother and in-town siblings. So I honored my dad another way.
One of his many projects late in life was a series of poems that celebrated the body. The human body was a wonder to him, complex and beautiful in its workings. “It’s fantastic,” he would say, “unbelievable!” He wanted to describe in great detail each organ or system of the body, using scientific terms, to create modern psalms. He used Psalm 148 as a model. In that psalm, the writer catalogues the wonders of nature in order to praise the Creator; my dad would do the same by cataloguing the wonders of the body. I remember reading one he completed, but unfortunately I can’t find a copy to post. (I’ll ask my siblings and put it here when we track it down.) It was about the eye, which is both fitting and ironic. He was a compulsive reader who eventually lost the ability to read because of macular degeneration.
(Another project of his that I’m just remembering now: when I was about 12 we collaborated on a play that reversed the characters’ genders in My Fair Lady. Somewhere I have stored pages of dialogue and a few songs I wrote marked up with his notes. As I write this my eyes well up. Did he really think I was capable of writing a musical or was he just providing me with a creative outlet? I can’t answer that, but he was a most unusual father.)
Anyway, when I came across Charles Harper Webb’s “Liver” a few years ago, I thought—someone beat him to it! Here was his idea—an ode that was also a biology lesson. I debated whether or not to give him a copy, but decided the ending would offend him. (“Our liver who art in heaven” and “Hail Liver, full of grace” would not amuse.)
I left “Liver” inside a book at the library on the anniversary of his death. That was the only appropriate choice. Some retired men frequent hardware stores or pharmacies; my dad visited the library every day, at least until he had to stop driving.
When I came home from the library, the house was cold so I kept my knitted hat on all day until I went to bed. In the evening, out of the blue up came an image of my father: surrounded by stacks of books, he sits in his chair wearing the frayed red hat he never took off. It was unnerving to realize how unconsciously I had been channeling his sartorial habits.