A Poem in Honor of My Father Who Died Ten Years Ago Today

(I wrote this poem before my daughters were born, which explains their absence.)

Clay on Rocks

“At the Resurrection with My Father”

I will look for you.
I will look for you at the resurrection
When we will awake with incorruptible bodies.
Your heart, right and healed.

Will we recognize each other quickly?
Will you have your mustache and I my beard?
Augustine says we’ll be about thirty years old,
But you and I never knew each other at that age.
I was born when you were thirty-six
And you died when I was twenty-eight.
(Only twenty-eight years together. How horribly brief.)

I will introduce you to your grandson.
He’s a redhead.
We followed your lead and adopted him.
I wish he could know you now,
That he could sit in your lap, feel your long arms.

I will look for you at the resurrection.
Together we will sing
Jesus songs in Jesus’s presence.
The bent world made straight.
You, your grandson, and I praising together.

“Karamazov!” cried Kolya, “can it really be true as religion says, that we will arise from the dead, and come to life, and see one another again, and everyone, and Ilyushecka?”

“Certainly we shall rise, certainly we shall see and gladly, joyfully, tell one another all that has been,” Alyosha replied, half laughing, half in ecstasy. — Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov


Voracious Deafness

At some point I stopped listening.
I fill my head with news and commentary
To grasp what is happening and why.

Mining more information to know more,
To have more well-rounded opinions that can withstand more argument.
So I read more essays, hear more radio and podcasts, watch more videos.

But it is not listening.
I do not pay attention to the voice,
Only the information.
Only to gain.

To listen is to receive freely whatever is given.
Attending even if nothing ends up said.
Waiting for a word that can only come from silence.
Not biding time until my turn to talk.

That my son or daughters might have something to offer
About trains or school or what the cow says.
That my wife reveals a frivolous beauty.
That creation shares a secret of its ancient wisdom.
That the Voice in the sheer silence may speak.

But Life

Autumn began dumbfounded in the wake of
Five deaths—three untimely, including a suicide—
And two revelations of probable lurking cancers.
I am short-tempered, yelling too easily at my children,
Angry at long lines and red lights.
I blame the upcoming presidential election.
But death’s mycelium spreading underneath, pushing through with grotesque reminders,
Is the true culprit.

I see my wife and children and dread the day this will all end.
That Springsteen guarantees my baby daughters’ dancing elates me.
I turn on the song and the bouncing commences.
My wife and I clap and laugh.
My son runs in and tells me to twirl with him.
Who am I to deny such an invitation?
As he and I spin like novice dervishes, my wife dances with one daughter who smiles with nine teeth, and the other stretches her tiny long fingers to plink the piano keys.
The Paraclete blows through our living room in the form of rock and roll.
An impromptu dance party.
So much grief and the future and the past forgotten.
Only backbeat. Only guitars. Only movement.
But life. But life.
When the singer asks, “Is there anyone alive out there?”
The five of us answer in the affirmative with our dance.

But Death

I did not anticipate having a child
Would make me think so much
About death.
Sure, I ask the responsible queries concerning
What would happen to my son were I to die.
Thus wills have been written, living trusts created.
But my death thoughts mostly do not concern duty.
Rather something more
Foundational, basic, earthy.

They say we feel settled when three generations exist.
When my father’s heart stopped I was childless,
Standing alone with no generation before or following me.
Only death approached.
I thought, expected, hoped
Having a child would assuage the looming fear.
Not so.
My son does open my eyes to life
With his constant firsts
He is Neil Armstrong and Leif Erikson every day.
I want him to make me forget mortality.
But death. But death.

My son reminds me I have a father and he died.
Each day my son grows I am a day closer.
His gracious and wonderful and very existence
Signifies I am next in line.
He will, God willing, bury me and mourn me.
I do not wish that pain on him,
It merely is the best order this side of the Resurrection.
Gratefully he grounds me.

For November 9, 2016, January 20, 2017, and Beyond

Be shocked, but not naive.
Surprised to the point of action, not stupefied.
Never take this as normal.
No accommodation.
Foster astonishment at evil and good.
Be maladjusted.

Be angry, but do not sin.

Be angry and stand
Be angry and walk
Be angry and listen
Be angry and talk
Be angry and work
Be angry and rest
Be angry and boycott
Be angry and invest
Be angry and laugh
Be angry and weep
Be angry and share
Be angry and keep
Be angry and write
Be angry and read
Be angry and follow
Be angry and lead
Be angry and whisper
Be angry and shout
Be angry and believe
Be angry and doubt
Be angry and sit
Be angry and dance
Be angry and hold
Be angry and advance
Be angry and sing
Be angry and pray
Be angry and move
Be angry and pray
Be angry and love
Be angry and pray
Be angry and hope
Be angry and pray.

Do not grow weary of doing right.

(With thanks to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and the Apostle Paul.)