Honeymooning in Minorca,
Mom says, Dad bought gifts,
not for her and not for him,
but for a page-long list:
Gloves for every brother,
For sisters-in-law, pearls,
Gloves also for his mother,
For ten colleagues, espadrilles.
Mom remembers their rented country house,
Terra cotta and white plaster,
A trash heap of cardboard and rusted steel,
A barn, a covered wagon.
In my lifetime, Dad gave simple gifts
Modest as a Spanish peasant:
He wrapped used books, wrote new poems,
And gave wildflowers for presents.
But once, he loved a pair of suede shoes
And returned for a second color;
While he was there, he got a pair for his wife,
brothers, nephews, nieces, sons, and daughter.
Getting Out the Door in the Morning
Threw a milk gallon
Against the blue wall of the sitting room.
Mom had left early, saying "Honey, please, overalls and tees, breakfast, brushed and on the bus."
The house was dawn-still. He roused us kids; we said "Five more minutes," and when we finally came down we were bed-head, mismatched, placing complicated breakfast orders and packing our own lunches.
Dad wore a blazer for a big day, and soon the bus would come, and we were not near ready. To this day I don't know what triggered it; dad is not an angry man. But I remember the thwack and crunch of the plastic, the explosion like white paint, and the drops that slid slow and silent in our shock and his embarrassment.
Nothing seems so improbable as the world of a few minutes ago
—G. Djanikian, “Violence”
before my mother’s lacy voice
turned slatestone brittle and cracked “come home”
before I drove the dusky morning
to the fluorescent hospital room, baptized
with wet eyes and worry, before
we sliced figs and Camembert on a maple cutting board
to dignify the waiting room, make linoleum feel like hardwood
while the surgeon scooped the tumor from my dad’s Emmental brain
before his calves turned baguette-thin, before his pastry-flaky skin
when he was strong as floorboards, as fathers ought to be.
I Stand In My Mother’s Kitchen
Sunday I am at the stove.
I reach for a wooden spoon.
I use my wrist to brush my bangs aside.
You watch me, you
Study my moves like words in a poem.
“Read to me—some favorite lines?”
You choose the clever kind because
We need the levity.
I stir polenta for my parents,
I slice the peppers,
I strip the pork and stack it
With the Jack in the skillet
Between the grilled tortillas
And I hope it’s hot when mom comes home.
She’s been working extra hours
She’s been paying bills bills bills
Piled beside you by the pills.
We sit to eat and dad is still.
He cannot say the prayer.
I cook the meal, lay the plates, say the prayer.
I squeeze your fingers. Thank God you’re here.
Merry Christmas; Father is Gone
Father is gone.
His body is dust on the mantle
Beside balsam needles, magnolia leaves
And a photo of young Mother
Kissing him in her crown of baby’s breath—
Those white hot holy stars—
Her lace and his gold-buttoned blazer.
Fire breathes below.
Embers turn ashes on hot stone.
We gather on couches and guess
What gifts he’d give if he were home.
What poems he’d pen to mark the year,
To smear our foreheads, dear, blest.
What words to wake us to Christ’s cheer?
Who wears the crown now,
those white hot stars?
Who blazes gold and evergreen?
Who lies with lions, wakes from dreams,
and, watching no clock, gathers us all?