My high school class of 1950
is disappearing over the edge
of the world– a snowless avalanche.
Rosalie of the pancake makeup;
Alex who outran us even towards death;
three Susans, two Davids, and a Roger.
When I see our class representative’s
name on an incoming email,
I think of how families must have felt
during World War II when they saw
the Western Union bicycle approaching.
And I remember all of us lining up
in gym class as captains chose their teams.
The line would dwindle until, on one leg
then the other, I was standing almost alone.
Maybe whoever is doing the choosing now
thinks I would be no good at dying.
This is for my surgeon father at last
whom I’ve desecrated in poem after poem
for punishing me with silence, for caring too much
about the exact degree of love and respect
my adolescent self let trickle down to him.
Who in one of his many depressions painted
still life after still life (our apartment rank
with brushes and turpentine and rotting vegetables)
painting himself back to sanity.
My father knew “Evangeline” by heart
and studded his letters to me with scraps
of poetry, though he never took note of mine.
He made up bedtime stories that always ended with
“ and then there was an explosion…” but
I didn’t inherit his gift for plot. His patients
called him charismatic (his doctor jokes, the airplanes
he made out of tongue depressors for the children)
and my friends turned up at his funeral, saying
they’d always wanted a father like mine.
How well he hid the archeology of grief.
His extended family had disappeared in Poland,
though he never spoke of them, and he never
stopped grieving for my stillborn brother. He badly
wanted a son, and I was just a girl.
Is there somewhere in the afterlife where he can read
what I write about him? Maybe he’d acknowledge at last
how alike we were in holding grudges;
in loving and caring too much; in somehow
painting ourselves, with brush or pen,
back to the kind of fragile truce we could live with.
On Rereading the 23rd Psalm
It’s the still waters
I long for—a lake I think,
and green pastures on the shores
of that lake –Vermont perhaps.
But I’d never eat in the presence
of my enemies– do I have enemies,
and would they watch me eat,
would they be hungry?
Righteousness? I can try.
A full cup? Wine, maybe.
But in this dark valley
with its swiftly encroaching shadows
where I must make my way,
what comforts, restores me
are these cadences of language.