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Sunday, June 18, 2006

On Fathers' Day

I’ve been thinking about my father (but then, you probably already figured that). Where to begin? If I were to capture all the thoughts that have swirled in my brain these last few nights, I’d have to write a book.

Of all the blessings bestowed on me, the greatest (by far) were my parents. I am the creation of two loving, fascinating, talented, driven, emotional, funny, beautiful, tormented, creative and intelligent human beings (sadly, in my case, the whole is less than the sum of its parts). Of the two, my father was the greater influence.

Where do I begin? His was a riches-to-rags story, his life completely upended by The War. He experienced, directly and intensely, both the horrors and the sublime joys of the human condition.

Through it all, he never failed to love.

Author’s Note: I’ve been sitting here at my keyboard for a good half-hour, at least. There’s simply too much to say, and insufficient talent to say it. I think it’s best if I try again some other day…

* * *

Eighteen years ago, I drove home from Tennessee with my Father’s ashes beside me in the car. I was overwhelmed with grief. For the next few days, I pored over my poetry books, reading through a veil of tears, searching for words. I finally found this poem by John Hall Wheelock. This was the one. I printed the poem on vellum and carried it folded in my wallet for the next decade...until the words seeped indelibly into my soul. The verses grew more powerful with every passing year. I think of this poem often…(I know my father would love it, too).

The Gardener

Father, whom I knew well for forty years,
Yet never knew, I have come to know you now –
In age, make good these old arrears.

Though time that snows the hair and lines the brow
Has equaled us, it was not time alone
That brought me to the knowledge I here avow.

Some profound divination of your own
In all the natural effects you sought
Planted a secret that is now made known.

These woodland ways, with your heart’s labor bought,
Trees that you nurtured, gardens that you planned,
Surround me here, mute symbols of your thought.

Your meaning beckons me on every hand;
Grave aisles and vistas, in their silence, speak
A language which I now can understand.

In all you did, as in yourself, unique –
Servant of beauty, whom I seek to know,
Discovering here the clue to what I seek.

When down the nave of your great elms I go
That soar their Gothic arches where the sky,
Nevertheless, with all its stars will show,

Or when the moon of summer, riding high,
Spills through the leaves her light from far away,
I feel we share the secret, you and I.

All these you loved and left. We may not stay
Long with the joy our hearts are set upon:
This is a thing that here you tried to say.

The night has fallen; the day’s work is done;
Your groves, your lawns, the passion of this place
Cry out your love of them – but you are gone.

O father, whom I may no more embrace
In childish fervor, but, standing far apart,
Look on your spirit rather than your face,

Time now has touched me also, and my heart
Has learned a sadness that yours earlier knew,
Who labored here, though with the greater art.

The truth is on me now that was with you:
How life is sweet, even its very pain,
The years how fleeting and the days how few.

Truly, your labors have not been in vain;
These woods, these walks, these gardens – everywhere
I look, the glories of your love remain.

Therefore, for you, now beyond praise or prayer,
Before the night falls that shall make us one,
In which neither of us will know or care,

This kiss, father, from him who was your son.

* * *


Blogger antimarx said...

the poem reminded me of Seamus Heaney's "Digging"...

Mon Jun 26, 08:16:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

I'll have to look that up. Thanks. One can never have too much poetry...

Mon Jun 26, 08:25:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

I found the poem:


Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; as snug as a gun.

Under my window a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade,
Just like his old man.

My grandfather could cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner's bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, digging down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mold, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I've no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I'll dig with it.

Seamus Heaney

I'll mull on this one for a while. In the meantime, here's another poem of similar ilk that hits me hard: "What For" by Garrett Kaoru Hongo.

Mon Jun 26, 08:58:00 PM  
Blogger antimarx said...

thanks. i'll check that one out... :)

Thu Jun 29, 01:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(Your posts are addicting; I'm turning into the person who stayed and read every one)

Father's Lullabye

In the true idea
There is no dying
Because the world is imaginary.

If a flash of green
Foresees our sun as a splash
At least you lived among colors.

Adapt to the night
And since the world has already ended,
No need to fear each night’s sleep.

Fanny Howe

Thu Apr 16, 06:29:00 PM  

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