Friday, June 14, 2024

Super-Sized Series

Happy Father’s Day


Neil Creighton’s father Reginald

Fate by Neil Creighton

For my father, Reginald Earle Creighton, 1913-1981

Dad never spoke about the war,
although, in hindsight,
its heavy hand was everywhere.
Maybe Mum told me the fragment,
the amazing flying away part.
The rest is in my mind.
First, I see the night,
then the twin-engined Vickers Wellington
taking off from Gibraltar and flying out
over the approaches to the Mediterranean.
I see six young men,
all brave, dutiful, all with a sense of honor,
but all of whom have seen loss,
been shocked by it and become resigned to it.
Each evening they fly out into uncertainty.
I am not yet born but one of them I know well.
I have often seen his young face in photos.
I know he is 12,000 kms from home.
I know his little country town, the  green valley,
the temperamental river.
I know those who live there,
his mother and father, his brothers and sister,
his young wife and the child he has never seen.

The night passes.
The first light is in the sky.
The silver-grey sea barely ripples beneath them.
The Rolls Royce engines drone.
They have seen nothing.
All is routine. They must head back to base.
Their lumbering plane is vulnerable in the daylight.
Then someone stares and squints.

Bloody hell, what's that block dot?
I think it's a fighter.
Ours or theirs?
O God, it's a Messerschmitt.
He's seen us, boys. He's heading straight for us.
He's too bloody fast. He'll catch us.
Get ready, boys. Give him hell.

The tail gunner and nose gunner
swivel their guns.
The Radio Operator, the one I know well,
rushes to an extra gun.
I hear their thoughts.

We'll never outrun him.
There's cannons in his wings.
We've only got machine guns.
One of us might get lucky.
Concentrate. Concentrate. Aim.
Give it your best.

Suddenly, almost within range,
the Messerschmitt turns and flies parallel to them.
He tips his wings, back and forth, back and forth,
a kind of greeting, an acknowledgement
before he peels off and flies away.
They watch him receding,
become a black dot and then disappear.
A wave of relief rushes over them.
They are incredulous.
A crazed kind of laughter echoes through the plane.
They will drink when they land.

But in the Messerschmitt that flies away
sits a young man tired of war,
tired of killing, tired of the mad folly of it.
He knows that plane, its vulnerabilities, its blind spots.
He knows he could have fired his cannons
through its canvas and into the flesh of the men inside,
or into the engines and he knows
he could have watched
their slow, smoke-filled spiral into the water below.
He has seen too much of war and death.
He is past inflicting harm or even wishing it.
Are not those men his brothers?
What difference is there but place of birth?

And he knows, too,
with a sad but wished-for resignation,
that his time will come soon, soon.
He has heard his engines scream,
seen his billowing smoke,
seen the water rushing up to meet him.
He will kill no more and someone, somewhere,
a mother or lover, will shed tears for him.

And the man in the Wellington,
one of the six, the one I know well,
is free to head back to the rocky little island,
free to fly again, free to go into his future,
free to embrace his yet to be known,
his great tangled twist of life and fate,
his triumphs and struggles,
his laughter, joy and pain.
He is free to one day return
to the life he left,
to his wife and child
and to four more unborn children
still waiting somewhere in the future's silence

MAKING STRUFOLI by Barbara Crooker
(a traditional Italian sweet)

In the weeks before my father's death, I make strufoli for him,
not knowing he will enter the hospital Christmas Eve,
not knowing he will never leave that high and narrow bed.
There are piles of presents yet to be wrapped red or green,
stacks of glossy cards to write, my work abandoned until the new year,
and I'm at the counter, kneading dough, heating olive oil until it spits.
A small blue flame of resentment burns.  I’m in the last half
of my life.  The poems I haven't written are waiting
outside the snowy window.  But I'm in the kitchen, rolling
dough into fat snakes, then thin pencils.  With the sharpest
knife, I cut them into one inch bits—a slice for the prom dress
he refused to buy, the perfect one, in shell-pink satin;
a chop for the college education he didn't save for—She’s just
a girl, She’ll get married, Who does she think she is?
— a stab
for the slap when I tried to learn Italian from his mother,
my grandmother, whose recipe this is.  The small pieces hiss
in the bubbling grease.  They change into balls of gold.  I drain
them on layers of paper towels.  I don’t know I will never make
them again, never mix in the roasted almonds, pour warm honey
over the whole pile, sprinkle Hundreds of Thousands, those tiny
colored candies, over the top.  I only know the way my shoulders
ache, the weariness as I do the great juggle—family, house, and
work—trying to keep all the balls in the air.  And when his stubborn
breathing finally stops, when his heart gives out at last,
I only remember love as something simple and sweet,
a kiss of honey on the tongue.  I take this strufoli that no one
else will eat, and spread it on the snow for the starlings and the crows.                   

from Barbara Crooker: Selected Poems (FutureCycle Press, 2015)  

Treasure by Rachael Ikins

     Shirtless, towel tucked into pjs,
     Poppy lifts me. I can reach.
     Saturday morning, we cook pancakes;
green bowl.  
black-handled spoon.
Chuffs a tune; egg, milk, flour.
Clicks against Corningware.
Our ceremony.
     "Careful! Skillet's too hot touch!"
Spatula smoothes oil.
Water-droplets hiss.
      "Silver dollar pancakes."
Flip coins-treasure, on oven-warmed plates.

I Miss You Dad by Angela Hoffman

That white pine that stood stoically for decades
with its far reach is gone;
the burden of the last snow, too heavy.
Its limbs began cracking, falling.
Big machines with a lift and saw arrived
and in a matter of hours, nothing
but a mound of dirt
and wide open space
in the spot where arms held a swing,
a wind chime, a nest,
where roots once ran deep.   

How Daddy Wrote His Poetry by Kavita Ezekiel Mendonca

Between puffs of a Menthol Cool cigarette
Left to curl in the glass ashtray
The folded handkerchief carefully placed on eyes
He lay silently still for the Muse
To bring him the lines.

The delicately-crafted glasses
Set aside on the cluttered desk
The faithful typewriter in the centre
The forgotten cheques for depositing
Becoming bookmarks of a different kind
The turtle shaped coin box for ‘loose change’
All forming a part of the familiar scene.

In set rhythmic pattern
He moved from bed to desk
Writing words and lines
On pieces of paper, blank or lined
Whatever could be found
Then back to the bed again.

He breathed deeply.
Or deep ‘breathely
(His coined phrase)
Perhaps invoking the Muse
For the rest of the poem
To take shape.
Breathing gave pause to the poetic process.

Pacing up and down the sparsely furnished room
Reading the words aloud
Inviting me in
To be both audience and critic
The ceremony completed.

Daddy typed with two fingers
On the old clickety typewriter
The manuscript ready
Delivered to willing or critical eyes.

Daddy wrote often
Into the early hours of the morning
I would have to creep into the room
Mouse-like, Cockroach quiet,
Remove the handkerchief
Turn off the light
Tell him he must sleep
It’s late, Daddy!

Standing outside his room
Until I heard the familiar click
Of the old wooden latch
I knew he’d get a few hours
Of fulfilled slumber.

Root Beer by Mary Ellen Talley

A father goes farther,
digs deeper
into himself
offering perhaps
an unsaid apology  
even if it’s just a treat
on a hot summer night
when he stops
at the A&W stand
to buy a jug of root beer
and a carton of vanilla ice cream.

These, my dad would bring home
to make root beer floats.
I’d fill my frosty glass mug
full of root beer,
drink it down to 2/3 full,
drop in a scoop of ice cream
and scramble
to suck the overflowing foam
before it would crest the rim of the glass
and slide down the side.

With a long spoon and straw, I’d
alternate a sip of root beer
and a swirl of the softened vanilla
tasting more and more like
the best summer evening ever.

I forget how frequently
he plied us with this treat,
at least often enough
to froth my memory.

MISSING YOU by Lori Levy

You missed the war, Da.
You died a month before Russia invaded Ukraine—
not that the world was at peace
when you left it.

I miss the depth of you, Da.
It helped, in our moments of joy
or sadness, to feel the warmth of you
sharing our ups and downs.
It helped, in this falling-apart world,
to know you were there, thinking about things—
able, somehow, with just the right comment,
to clear a path for us through the mud, the mess.

We are making a book of your Potpourri essays:
your thoughts on everything from truth and
gratitude to old clothes, words, politics, aging.
I am the proofreader, mostly adding or removing
commas, dashes, spaces—the little things
you were sometimes careless about.

Who knew your last days would be spent
wilting on a bed in the hospital where you worked?
Small, thin, shrunken, you lay curled
like a comma beneath the blanket.  
I want to believe you ended your story
with a comma, Da, not a period.
A comma is a promise, more is coming.
Your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren
will continue the story,

first appeared in Ink Pantry

Finding My Birth Father by Wilda Morris

When I finally found the sons and grandsons
of my birth father (brothers and nephews
I had never met), I found my birth father
in the circle of his second family.
They took me to his grave under a tree,
its limbs green with promise.

I learned how he turned his life around,
leaving the worst sins of his youth behind.
I found him in the demolition business,
tearing down old buildings as he tore down
his own past, readying the plat
for something new, a parking lot
an apartment building, a bank.

I found him on Lafayette Square
in Saint Louis, Missouri, rehabbing a house
as he rehabbed his life, making a safe place
for the family he would not betray
because he had finally found
his true self.

Early Morning Story by Alan Walowitz

 My father lay in intensive care,
not caring to live--
and I didn’t care to see him die.
So, I went away.
It was night, late, 2 a.m.
the corridors of Coney Island Hospital
were empty enough to hold my grief--
which I told myself
I didn’t feel.
To this day, I wonder why
what I tell myself can’t be
what I really find inside.
You say, let’s stop
such telling for all time.
So, you take a book and read to me
like the child I am
and your voice, insisting it be heard,
above the noise my useless telling makes,
falls soft and long, and only on
the sudden word, the simple phrase,
teaches me to listen, to attend,
and so to love all over again.
It feels so late, but now I know
I could have read to him--even then.
There he was, near the end,
and he might have heard some love in me
that could have soothed
this dying man who loved me so
yet taught me to confuse
the desire for things
with the want of love.
The peace I find so strong
in your human, human voice
is maybe in us all,
maybe was in him--
and now I know in me--
if I care enough to look.
from In the Muddle of the Night (co-written by Betsy Mars)

Our Own Countries by Marianne Szlyk

Old, old songs Dad listened to on eight-track
nights as he drove home to the almost-country:

Hank Williams, music from barroom juke boxes,
Fifties’ peacetime at Fort Sam Houston.

Texas was far away from the neighborhood
in the New England city where he grew up.

There everyone he knew spoke mostly Polish,
as if his church, his school, his father’s store,

and Friday-night polkas at “Dorrity” Pond
were not in our country.

                                         But they were.

Just like the stone walls Frost rode past--
and the Texas bars where Hank Williams once sang.

We Use Him by Tamara Madison

I stood by the bed
the day my father died,
holding his hand,
feeling the thin tremble
of his pulse
with my fingertips.

He was yellow,
breathing faintly
but he knew we were there
for his eyes flickered,
his head nodded,
he was waiting for us.
He seemed to look up
with his eyelids
and then fall, relieved,
into death’s cool hand.

Now we use him.
My son walks on his legs.
My sister throws his shadow
across the pool.
My brother wears
his burnished, bald crown.
His eyes regard me from the mirror,
and when I am especially angry
they flash like a switchblade,
foolish, but fierce,
and infinitely useful.

Daddy and Venice by Jacqueline Jules

Daddy took his daughter to Venice
paid extra on the Grand Canal
for velvet seats, a Persian rug,
and a singing gondolier.
I complained about
the water’s fishy smell.

We disembarked
at the Doge’s Palace
to climb a grand staircase
guarded by naked stone men.
I made a big show
of clamping my eyes shut.

The old paintings of stuck up
princes made me pout.

But when Daddy handed me
a cone of seed for the pigeons
in St. Mark’s Square,
my pout flapped open
like their soot gray wings.

He snapped picture after picture
of my small frame
dressed in pigeon
and oblivious to poop.

If I went back today, all grown up—
would I still prefer the pigeons
over carved cherubs and clock tower?
And would I feel Daddy’s presence
grinning in the gondola,
his patient arm pointing
at a stone arch above our heads?
Originally published in Imitation Fruit

Dad’s Wardrobe by Tina Hacker

His two sports jackets
“fell off the back of a truck”
along with cuff links
and occasionally a belt.
As a child, I pictured Dad’s
gold checked jacket
and the polyester blue one
tumbling onto the roadway
arm in arm, like tipsy tourists
zigzagging around tires,
leaping over puddles
until rescued by a passerby
who just happened to drop in
for a beer at our small bar on Western Ave.

Originally published in Shot Glass Journal

Rag Man by Laurie Byro

All that is left of you, Father, are the rags from your tee shirts,
I use every week to polish the splintery house you helped
us build.  I pull you from the rag pile to spray lemon, scatter dust.

The rags become softer and work worn, like you were, at 80.
I miss your age-ravished arms, your thin, sun-speckled chest
that held me night after night, after working two shifts.

Mom said you calmed me, fussy baby, while she slept.
You said it was your turn to punch in, she had me all day.
Now, what is left of us? Each spring becomes a house of dust,

a summer of heat and sweat. Flannel rags from a life of hard winters,
cold and lonely. Endless drives home in trucks with bald tires
and snow to shovel. It all started again, 5:30 a.m. Ragman,

you were meant to be used up. These stained rags I tend to,
wash rather than throw away, do not reveal the ache of your veins.  

 From The Poetry of Laurie Byro     

My Father’s Hard Luck Cases by Judith Waller Carroll

Someone was always coming by.
With his hand out, my mother would say,
as Bus Hughes’s old Dodge pulled up,
or she heard the busted muffler
that meant Jack Kelly, the sheepherder
with the sad smile.
My father welcomed them with a hearty
clap on the back, offered them coffee.
I remember Jack Kelly’s polite manners
and how his hand shook a little as he held his cup.

How good Bus Hughes was with our fox terrier,  
but how he always seemed to leave
an animal behind—his collie, Red Boy,
an old mule called Francis.

And how my father always said,
You’ll get back on your feet,
as he walked Jack or Bus
or one of his other hard luck cases
to his car, then stood at the curb for a while
after they drove off.

From Ordinary Splendor

Super-Sized Series

Happy Father’s Day     Neil Creighton’s father Reginald Fate by Neil Creighton For my father, Reginald Earle Creighton, 1913-1981 Dad n...