This is a hard poem for me. I found it not long after my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. It is an awful disease to watch progress. Growing up, I feel like I never really knew my father, and now, he’s losing his ability to walk and talk, his mind is going, and his eyesight is poor. He was always a quiet man, but now his voice is barely a whisper. You can’t really have a conversation with him. He recently fell and broke five ribs. My mother had to put him in a nursing home, but there was reason to believe he was being mistreated there, so he returned home shortly before Father’s Day. We went to see him on Father's Day. We ate burgers and watched baseball.
My approach to disease is different from the mainstream. Poems like this make me uneasy because they focus on the material reality instead of the spiritual reality. I know my father is the reflection of God, of love, of comfort, and soundness. He is whole now. I can’t believe anything less.
|My father, taken on Father's Day.|
While spoon-feeding him with one hand
she holds his hand with the other hand,
or rather lets it rest on top of his,
which is permanently clenched shut.
When he turns his head away, she reaches
around and puts in the spoonful blind.
He will not accept the next morsel
until he has completely chewed this one.
His bright squint tells her he finds
the shrimp she has just put in delicious.
Next to the voice and touch of those we love,
food may be our last pleasure on earth—
a man on death row takes his T-bone
in small bites and swishes each sip
of the jug wine around in his mouth,
tomorrow will be too late for them to jolt
this supper out of him. She stokes
his head very slowly, as if to cheer up
each separate discomfited hair sticking up
from its roots in his stricken brain.
Standing behind him, she presses her cheek
to his, kisses his jowl, and his eyes seem
to stop seeing and do nothing but emit light.
Could heaven be a time, after we are dead,
if remembering the knowledge
flesh had from flesh? The flesh
of his face is hard, perhaps
from years spent facing down others
until they fell back, and harder
from years of being himself faced down
and falling back in his turn, and harder still
from all the while frowning and beaming
and worrying and shouting and probably
letting go in rages. His face softens
into a kind of quizzical wince, as if one
of the other animals were working at
getting the knack of the human smile.
When picking up a cookie he uses
both thumbtips to grip it
and push it against an index finger
to secure it so that he can lift it.
She takes him then to the bathroom,
and when they come out, she is facing him,
walking backwards in front of him
and holding his hands, pulling him
when he stops, reminding him to step
when he forgets and starts to pitch forward.
She is leading her old father in the future
as far as they can go, and she is walking
him back into her childhood, where she stood
in bare feet on the toes of his shoes
and they foxtrotted on this same rug.
I watch them closely: she could be teaching him
the last steps that one day she may teach me.
At this moment, he glints and shines,
as if it will be only a small dislocation
for him to pass from this paradise into the next.