I guess you could say this poem is about legacies—what parents leave behind and what children don’t even know about until it’s too late. It’s a simple poem, played out in the lives of so many men and women, keeping intimate things intimate for fear of ridicule or judgment. It’s a sad poem because the connection should have been made in life, not in the grieving that follows.
But prayer was not enough, after all, for my father.
His last two brothers died five weeks apart.
He couldn’t get to sleep, had no appetite, sat
staring. Though he prayed,
he could find no peace until he tried
to write about his brothers, tell a story
for each one: Perry’s long travail
with the steamfitters’ union, which he worked for;
and Harvey—here the handwriting changes,
he bears down—Harvey loved his children.
I discovered those few sheets of paper
as I looked through my father’s old Bible
on the morning of his funeral. The others
in the family had seen them long ago;
they had all known the story,
and they told me I had not, most probably, because
I am a writer,
and my father was embarrassed by his effort. Yet
who has seen him as I can: risen
in the middle of the night, bending over
the paper, working close
to the heart of all greatness, he is so lost.