Saturday, October 3, 2009

A rowdy nap

This poem from Dean Young's collection Private Mentor took be aback. It was a jolt, a tingle, a shooting pain above the eye. It was as if someone had just walked across where someone was already buried, someone I knew.

The first time I saw my father after he died,
he kept knocking against the window
even though I was afraid
that the cat would kill him. At least crash-

landing on the sill and then knocking more
was an improvement over the mechanical
bed, no glasses, no teeth, only Holy
shit I’m dying on repeat in his mind,

his three terrified, disgusted, bored offspring
in the ozone waiting room politely ignoring
the bilge from the grief counselor.

They’d had bad dreams before but weren’t sure
they too were cinders shooting through the cosmos
from one oblivion to another.
One thought of his convertible in the parking lot,
was it locked? One discarded baby names on her list.

One became an anvil but if you asked,
No he’d say, he wasn’t hurting anyone.

Something green hustled by whose only job
was swabbing surgery floors so it was good

Dad’s spirit didn’t cling to him, it needed
some air. How can I remember a voice
so clearly but not a thing it said?

The shrinking was immediate. Once

I thought a frog in a puddle in North
Carolina, easy to hold in my hand,
possible to protect. I was wrong.
Then after the fawn coming pickpocket close,

he gave up for years until yesterday’s
black stone on the beach with his gentle eye
for which I’m grateful still, and cherish
then heave back into the sea’s honeysuckle.

A bit surreal, and well done, definitely Kafkaesque with the blend of bewilderment and institutional sterility. It's a comic poem, I would guess, close to a comic book logic, perhaps with a bit of prime Woody Allen thrown into the mix. The image of the spirit of the dead father hovering and drifting through the site of his death strikes me as something a family survivor would come up with as a buffer against the coming shock of a parent's death; let's imagined Dad as a spirit as new spirit ambling about just as he did when he was still alive. There is a desire, primitive and grossly selfish, to let everything fall apart and drop one's pants to moon the portrait of the dead patriarch, but it's hard to muster up the courage,the brio, when the spectral father is roaming around his old places of love and work, tending to things he hadn't finished . And the moral and economic center of the family shifts and we realize, at last, that we are fully adult. It's difficult to act like a child , even when the Old Man is gone, when you know you're acting.

When my family discovered my younger brother dead in his apartment in January of 2000 , we stood numbly in the parking lot while the police did their work. After a half hour of managing only tears and half sentences, I made a joke, referring to the time when my brother, bottoming out on drugs at the time, used to sneak into our late parent's garage located below their condominium."Well, now he can move back into Mom and Dad's basement" I said. There was silence for a second, and then laughter, deep, grating guffaws from four shell-shocked siblings. And then more tears came between the laughs and we ceased being numb and recognized the meaning our loud tears; grief and relief, mixed in gasping intervals. We would mourn the loss of our brother forever, and it was likely we were glad that wasn't yet our turn to be staring straight up at the ceiling or open sky, seeing absolutely nothing.

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