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Posts Tagged ‘Father’s Day’

A two-poem salute to fathers on this Father’s Day 2019. With poems as wonderful as these, that’s as good as twenty-one guns.

 

This excerpt from Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” belongs in the wild, in air cleaned fresh by summer rain. But with no countryside excursion possible, I taped the poem to the edge of a fountain called “Orpheus” on the campus of a private school, Cranbrook.

 

The father in the poem is nearly as mythic a figure as Orpheus, the god of music. Tall, tan, handsome, wise, father of sons and grandfather of sons (and only incidentally, in Whitman’s view, father of daughters), vigorous, kind, a non-drinker—here is an iconic American man, his virility expressed as much in his calm presence as in his progeny.

 

As more of a fault-finder than halo-maker, I have never met such a man, but I sure would like to—

You would wish long and long to be with him, you would wish to sit by him in the boat that you and he might touch each other.

 

[A word about the statues in the fountain:  the figures depict ordinary people (except for one representing Beethoven) listening to music. All were originally from Sweden and part of a set that included a 38-foot Orpheus playing music in the center. The founder of Cranbrook School, newspaperman George Booth, didn’t include the center god figure because he wanted the fountain to be “democratic, equal, and American.” Very Whitman-esque!]

You can read the complete poem here. See section 3.

 

 

 

The second poem features a grandfather too, but this granddad is the proud forefather of a female. I set Miller Williams’ “A Poem for Emily” outside a barbershop. (Link here for a version easier to read than my photograph.)

poem is under barbershop pole, in front of magazine

 

The creepiness of the picture below was not intentional. I was aware it might seem creepy to photograph strangers getting their hair cut, so I left the poem where I would not be noticed which happened to be under the gaze of this creepy fellow:

 

Because there is nothing creepy and everything beautiful about a grandfather seeing his baby granddaughter for the first time. He thinks forward to the years ahead, imagines her growing up and growing apart from him. He leaves her two gifts, this poem and his love which, in the great tradition of poems and in the sacred nature of love, live on forever.

I wrote this down, a thing that might be kept

awhile, to tell you what I would have said

. . . which is I stood and loved you while you slept.

 

Oh my heart! Is there anything more comforting than that? To be looked upon and loved while you sleep? I think of my husband standing in the children’s doorways . . . I think of my father checking on us in our beds nearly every night . . . I think of how many fathers have done, do now, and will do. . . bless them all!

 

Bless especially those fathers who have lost children. They are on my mind today.

 

Happy Fathers Day all!

 

 

 

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I’m trying to get this post up quickly—too many things to get done and my daughter gets home from Cameroon today—so I’ll skip the fanfare and get right to it.

 

I put an assortment of poems for Father’s Day around town.  Three of the poems are fathers addressing daughters. Another poem is a father’s lament for a failed relationship, and another is a daughter’s. One has no mention of a father at all, but it speaks to what I love about fathers.

 

That poem, the one with no particular mention of fathers, is Marge Piercy’s “To be of use.”  I put the poem in the mouse trap section of a popular dad hangout, the hardware store.

poem is hanging above yellow boxes in the middle of the picture

poem is hanging above yellow boxes in the middle of the picture

 

Up close:

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Of course any number of people in the world are useful people, people who do what has to be done, again and again, but I send this poem out to the fathers I’ve known and admired.  Especially the ones who empty the mouse traps.

 

Poem is hanging on a branch

Poem is hanging on a branch

Marie Ponsot’s poem “Hard-Shell Clams” I left in a cemetery.  All those buried wounds seemed to belong there.  The poem is so beautiful it gives me the shivers.

 

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I can’t stop reading it.  That image of the sand just kills me: a glitter like chain mail guarding who I am/from his used blue gaze that stared to understand.

 

One poem is on the window, the other on the post

One poem is on the window, the other on the post

I posted two poems of fatherly advice together on a local high school.  School is out but maybe someone will come to the gym and find the wise words of Ralph Waldo Emerson in “From a Letter to His Daughter.”

 

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Emerson’s advice is classic dad: get over it and move on.  If Mad Men’s Don Draper were a good man, a good father, this is what he might tell his children: Finish every day and be done with it.

 

Miller Williams offers different advice in “For a Girl I Know About to Be a Woman.”

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Some of the advice seems a little dated, but if you substitute other offensive words for “dago” and “wop,” his counsel is sound.  He lists tell-tale signs of a loser and abuser: if a boy tries to change you, doesn’t respect you, himself or even a snake, beware.

 

Poem is on the front bumper

Poem is on the front bumper

I put James Tates’ “Father’s Day” on a golf cart.  No, I’m not accusing all fathers who golf of avoiding their families, but some do.  I remember driving by a golf course one Thanksgiving Day with my mother-in-law.  It was snowing but sure enough two men were golfing.  “Who are they hiding from?” she said wryly.

 

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The father’s invention of a fairy tale to explain his daughter’s refusal of contact is funny and heartbreaking and a much much better version of “Cat’s in the Cradle.”

 

poem is on front of truck, under red sign

poem is on front of truck, under red sign

I had to do some talking to get the next poem on an ice cream truck.  Poem and camera in hand, I surveyed the situation and realized it would be impossible to tape the poem on the truck without being noticed, so I asked the ice cream man for permission.  I explained my blog, I showed him the poem, I pointed out where I wanted to tape it.  “I don’t get it,” he said. So I read the poem to him and tried to make a connection between a father leaving a treat for his daughter by her bedside and a father who might buy an ice cream treat  (that might also stain a mouth blue) for his child.  “I still don’t get it,” he said.  I changed the subject—we talked about his home country of Tanzania and my daughter’s experiences in Cameroon—and soon he put aside his suspicions of my intent and agreed, as long as he wasn’t in the photograph, to take on the poem.  Thank you, ice cream man.

 

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This poem is pure and sweet.  The father thinks of his daughter as he hikes, plans his little present, gazes at her as she sleeps and imagines her delight as she wakes. She’s on his mind, past, present and future, the lucky child.  “For Sarah, Asleep” is by my Scottish friend Angus Martin.  I hope he gets a kick out of the trek this poem has taken and will take, should the Tanzanian ice cream man decide to leave the poem on his truck.

 

Happy Father’s Day!

 

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poem is in lower right corner between booth and window

(Poem #1437) My Father

by Yehuda Amichai

 

The memory of my father is wrapped up in

white paper, like sandwiches taken for a day at work.

 

Just as a magician takes towers and rabbits

out of his hat, he drew love from his small body,

 

and the rivers of his hands

overflowed with good deeds.

 

What an intimate portrait Yehuda Amichai draws of his father in a mere six lines.  Except for the mention of his father’s small stature, the picture is all drawn indirectly, through association and inference.  His father, we learn, was a little man, a working man, a modest man who packed a lunch for the day, and most importantly, a kind man.

 

The poem almost seems like the memory of a little boy watching his father go to work, thinking his father magical as many children do.  The poet unwraps this package of memory, a memory held in paper, like his poem.  I remember being entranced when I learned how to wrap sandwiches in waxed paper, folding the sides back and forth together accordion-style, and tucking under the ends.  When a sandwich is wrapped this way, unwrapping takes as much care as wrapping; the process must be reversed.  Just so, time must be reversed for memories to come alive. Amichai discussed this notion of time and memory in a 1989 interview in the Paris Review:  “It’s easy for me to shortcut back to my childhood, my adolescence, my wars. It’s actually a very Jewish sense of time, out of the Talmud. There’s a Talmudic saying that there’s nothing early or late in the Bible, which means that everything—all events—are ever present, that the past and future converge on the present, especially in language.”

 

Yehuda Amachai was born in Germany in 1924.  His entire family emigrated to Palestine when Hitler was coming to power, and so they all escaped the Holocaust.  He fought in four wars–World War II and the Israeli wars of independence—though he abhorred violence. Politically active, he enjoyed movie-star status in Jerusalem, where he lived until he died in 2000.

 

Amichai wrote in colloquial Hebrew, which was revolutionary for his time.  His reputation for wordplay is something that can’t be captured in translation, and after reading how inventive he is with the Hebrew language, I’m disappointed that I can’t experience a true reading of his poems.  But what I can read is still pretty darn good.

 

The poem seems at first to be a haphazard collection of images, but actually the poet has focused the reader’s attention by stealth on his father’s hands. The sandwich must be wrapped, and then opened, and then consumed by hands; the magician pulls rabbits out of the hat with his hands; “he drew love from his small body” is an action we visualize being done with hands. And so at the end of the poem when the father’s hands become overflowing rivers, the progression seems logical even if we aren’t aware of the logic.  Hands are particularly important in this poem because hands are so often the instruments of kindness.

 

My husband and I used to keep a list we called “Sweet Men,” which was composed of kind men we knew with gentle spirits.  Amichai’s father would surely make the list.  But why not “Sweet Women”?  Because kindness in women, while beautiful, is not necessarily surprising.  Kindness in men, God forgive my sexist soul, delights me.  I keep another list of my own, a secret list of kindnesses various men have done for me.  It’s a list I love.

 

Which brings me to Father’s Day.  It’s wonderful for fathers to give children opportunities, material goods and memorable vacations, but showing children kindness in action is the most lasting gift.  And what would a child value most:  a father’s intelligence, his charm, his success or his kindness?  The answer reminds me of a framed piece of needlework I keep in my laundry room:  “What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?”  And also the oft-quoted lines from Wordsworth:

 

That best portion of a good man’s life,

His little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love.

 

Amichai’s poem surprised me because it’s given me a way of connecting my father and father-in-law, both gone now.  They were very different men with entirely different strengths and weaknesses.  But I honor both as men who were kind.

 

My father was a sometimes difficult man, a man the mailman once complained to my mother as having “the tact of a herd of elephants.”  But under his bluster was a compassion he acted upon again and again, and those are the family stories we treasure.  A Denver boy, he saw his first homeless person (in those days called a bum) on a trip to New York City, and tried to lift the man out of the gutter, quite literally.  On leave, he refused to sleep at a hotel that denied entry to a black man under his command.    He always kept a collection box in the front hall for everyone in the family to give change for the poor.  He was a great sender of cards, flowers, thoughtful letters and inscribed books. One of my most poignant memories is of him, in his late old age, apologizing to me for something he had said that had made me cry.  It takes a kind-hearted man to issue the gentle apology he gave to me that day.

 

My father-in-law was 50’s kind of man, a bachelor type who happened to get married and have children.  For most of his life he had a pronounced distaste for emotional displays, but as he aged it became clear that his avoidance of emotion masked a tender and kind heart. So many occasions he showed kindness to me, and not just in difficult times when my need for it was obvious.  No matter what was going on in his own life, he always had a kind word and welcoming expression for me.  His kindness forms the theme of several personal stories which I won’t relate here, except to say that his sweetness, tact and calm presence sit in my heart like a small paradise.

 

I must mention also my husband who I will embarrass by extolling his kind nature and describing a quality of his that irritates and pleases me equally:  that is, he is unskilled and unpracticed in extricating himself from deadly conversations with people who won’t stop talking.  This is on purpose, I recently found out.  Some people, he explained to me, always get pushed away by others because of their excessive talking.  He chooses to listen instead of looking for an exit.  “They must really have a need to talk,” he says.  What a man my man is!

 

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads, especially the kind ones.

 

 

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