Monday, April 28, 2008

Unfinished

Back in November this past year I took a poetry workshop in NYC with Ellen Bass and Marie Howe, two outstanding poets. They gave us a writing exercise in which we had to describe a defining moment in an unfinished relationship, including setting, any dialogue, taking the reader as slowly as possible so as to make them a part of it. Truly, any relationship is unfinished. This one is about my father.

I wrote this poem a few days ago, as today it will be 23 years since he died. It is part of a series I'm endeavoring to write about the unfinished relationships in my life, both past and present.


Cigarettes

We had settled into
our nightime TV ritual
Magnum P.I. and Nero Wolfe
our favorites.
I was on the couch,
you in your well-worn recliner,
feet up to help keep
fluid out since
the pneumonia.
During a commercial
you casually asked me
if I would get you
a pack of cigarettes
out of the kitchen.

I huffed, gave you
one of my looks,
well-honed in sixteen years,
the one I reserve for when
I don’t know what to say.
When I came back
into the room
I hurled the heart-attack-in-a-pack
at you and thudded back
onto the couch, arms
crossed, leg over knee.
Now I know what to say.

Next time you want
a pack of cigarettes
get them yourself.

You looked at me,
at your wife as though
I had unearthed
a hidden truth,
taken off whatever lenses
through which you didn’t see me.

You once took my
little girl rage against
your palms, raised open
like a sparring coach,
small fists slamming
implacable flesh,
the sting of your wedding ring.

If I thought it would save
what life was left
I would have thrown
dozens of them at you,
my love sealed up
in plastic-wrapped paper,
smokes that would
never hasten your grave,
inscribed with that warning
not nearly fierce enough
but just as helpless.

3 comments:

Andy said...

I have no words other than "Keep writing".

Jan said...

You have a gift with your poetry. So much expressed. Thanks.

suzsmelzer said...

You have a fantastic way of weaving heart and words...