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This is the second in my series of blogs about poems and how they came to be written. "When My Father Slipped into his Death" was written after my dad, a man from whom I was too often estranged, completed his very difficult life. He was buried on my 50th birthday.  At the time of his death, he'd been a widower for twenty years. I lived in Oregon. My father lived in Delaware. He visited us for a couple weeks every year and I talked to him on Sundays. 

As my father got older and less involved with other people,  my husband, whose own father had already died, thought I should call Dad more often. I told him once a week was enough for me. And so, my kind-hearted husband called my father every morning. I'm ashamed to admit this wasn't something I was willing to do,  but I was grateful to Andy. And it made me feel better to know someone was checking in with Dad on a daily basis. They didn't talk long, but it seemed my father looked forward to Andy's calls and waited close to the phone at 8 a.m. When he didn't answer one January morning, Andy called my brother, who lived about 5 miles away from Dad, and asked him to check. My brother found our father dead.  

When I got the news I was leveled. This reaction shocked me.  My father was a wall I'd been pushing against my entire life. Without him, I felt as if I had nothing to keep me upright. I was no longer sure who I was in a life that no longer included him. 

Looking back, I guess I thought there'd be time for Dad and me to work through all the pain of his alcoholism and abuse. Time for him to tell me he loved me and was proud of the woman I'd become. Time for me to love him better. But time had run out for my father and me. 

I regret holding on to my anger. I regret not loving my father more when I had the chance. I regret not taking enough time to listen to him--to learn some of the things I learned after his death. He was a difficult man. But I've come to know and understand so much more about him. This poem was written shortly after his funeral. And it opened my eyes to something I'd long denied. I loved my father all along. I was just too angry, hurt and proud to admit it. Now, he haunts me more than any other person I've lost. Writing poetry about him allows me to find him again. To see his life through a wide-angled lens and not the telephoto of my childhood. 

When we cleaned out my father's house, I took one of the orthopedic shoes he'd worn since the grenade blew up in his hand during WWII.  For me, this shoe represented his tenacity. The way he fought hard to keep his leg and to learn to walk again with the help of a brace.

I had the shoe bronzed and laced it with the same purple shoelaces I refer to in the poem. It sits on a shelf near my computer in my writing room. Every time I get a rejection letter or feel discouraged by the many setbacks we face as writers, I look at that shoe and think about the discouragement he must have felt when the doctors told him he'd never walk again. I think about the way he kept trying--never gave up.  This is the precious gift my father gave to me. Do I wish I could talk to him again?  Yes.  Would I call him every morning if I had another opportunity? I'd sure like to think I would.  
When My Father Slipped into His Death

When my father slipped into his death,
the fingers of his good hand clenched
a fist at his chest. As if caught
in the unlit swell, opening like the mouth
of a river, he protested, struggled to stay ashore
wrapped inside the dry logic of himself,
where survival was the only parable,
certain enough for belief.

Through the dusty mauve curtains,
morning splashes, clear and carmine,
staining the sun-starved skin with color
like the insides of a sea bass.
Near the foot of the bed, I expect fear,
but the face and hands are too familiar.

In a rush of lost affection, I uncurl
his fingers, pet a ruffled arch of brow,
the bead of shrapnel embedded
in the rise of his cheek.
He wears only one shoe,
laced with a radiant magenta bow,
shimmering and elusive,
as the dorsal fin of a blue fish.

I laugh out loud, wiggle the still-tied shoe
from his stiffened foot. A black orthopedic
worn for more than fifty years.
Two holes the size of dimes dot the heel,
receptacles for the long steel
brace that buckled onto his rotting leg,
inflexible from ankle to thigh.

Those first tenuous steps into
whatever remained after the grenade.
I cradle his shoe against my check
and the years of rage, too hot to touch,
cool at once into this mourning.
The narrow canal of our long silence opens,
a giant body of water, big enough
for a man and his child to disappear. 

 


Comments

LOoks Baker
02/06/2016 9:49am

Reading thru I feel and understand your reactions to the difficult situation you lived with your Dad. And love the bronzes shoe.

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08/30/2016 4:47pm

I love this post because it reminds me of the beauty of poetry. I do not have much talent in writing poetic lines, but as my teachers say, you will have something to share in this world because every emotion is unique. When I look into my marginal notes, I am surprised that I have written several lines that also surprise me. I thought I could not write those words, but I can do that. Because of this, I am inclined to spend several hours a week to write poetry.

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09/28/2016 6:24am

What a nice and really inspiring story of yours. Life here on earth is short. We are living only for a short period of time. This is the reason why for me as much as possible, I see to it that I am able to show my care and love to others. Ad for you and your dad, I don't want to blame you for anything but rather salute you for being able to forgive him even though it's a bit late.

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Kathy Goldner
02/06/2016 1:12pm

Beautiful and moving, Susan.

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Dan Kaufman
02/07/2016 7:34am

A fine poem, Susan, as you continue to uncurl your father's fingers.

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Karen
02/07/2016 3:21pm

Susan, I'm inspired By this touching poem. We share challenging father relations. How you've turned loss into a reminder of tenacity is evidence of 'Rising Strong (a book I'm reading by Brene Brown, also see Ted Talks). Thank you for sharing this experience. I spent almost two days alone with my 80 year old father in Nov and it was healing on many levels. We travelled to a military memorial service together. I believe time softens us so we can open into the giant body of water before we disappear.
Much love my Aquarius Sister and my best to Andy,
Karen

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Andy Goldner
02/07/2016 3:23pm

A tough read. It brought tears to my eyes.Filled with truth and emotions.

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Katie
02/08/2016 9:54am

I was touched by the depth of emotion expressed and the inspiration I felt from the sharing of those feelings and memories.

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Martha Miller
02/08/2016 11:57am

Life is so full of regrets, and mine are that my own father, who was cool and remote and died at 59, would never let me get close to him. Now I'd just push my way in, demand his affections, show him all the affection I have in me for him. But it's too late, of course. And knowing that you had a similar, yet more difficult time with yours, and the regrets you feel and how you're handling them, helps me. Thank you.

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Anne Stabile
02/09/2016 6:49pm

I have learned that, with two daughters of my own, and a father who was my hero until I was about 16...that relationships with dads can be very complicated indeed. I loved my father. He was a man to be admired, but our relationship was difficult, too. Me, always wanting more in the midst of his deep silences, learning to make do with snuggling up to him in front of the TV and putting up with football in order to spend time with him. He, a WWII Veteran always trying to protect me. I miss him every day. Probably always will. What a beautiful, precious poem.

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Bob
02/13/2016 8:49am

This is one of your best, both blog and poem. The emotions came through very powerfully, so beautifully written. Writing blogs that tell the inspiration behind your poetry is a great idea. I look forward to many more.

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02/15/2016 10:56am

A touching reminder of my own father. He never made it past 10th grade (his father pulled him out of school to sell apples on the street) but he was one of the smartest men I've known. He was good and honest and affectionate and started telling me I would go to college from the time I was three years old. Your beautiful poem took me back decades.

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Barry
02/17/2016 6:30am

Namaste, my friend. Kudos for having the guts to share these raw, emotional, ongoing feelings in such an honest and tender manner that others can learn and grow from having read them. You managed to capture what Fyodor Dostoyevsky affirmed for us in that “to love someone means to see them as God intended them.” Your timeless tribute to your father who painfully, yet proactively, influenced your tenacious and courageous approach to living illustrates to the reader what Stephen King, expressed in Different Seasons: “The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them — words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.”

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Martha R
03/29/2016 12:14pm

Extraordinary, Susan! Your honest examination of this very complex relationship goes so deep. And the poem is amazing. Hooray, too, for Andy!

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06/16/2016 7:49pm

You know a poem is beautiful, when every word you've read left no part of your soul untouched. I can feel the regret and agony in your poem. Why is it that we only realize what a person truly means to us when they're gone? I think that is life's greatest tragedy. Even so, your father must have been very proud of looking at her daughter now. Because even though the wall that you've been leaning on to crumble down, you are striving to stand with your own feet and continue to face life even without your father. So take all your time to heal your inner wounds and know that your father is in a better place now. God bless you.

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12/22/2016 5:15am

I was satisfied after reading the contents of this page, for that I say thank you

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