Fragment of a Letter to a Father

No-one fishes now.
Fine for fish but
Not, I think, for us.
You never took me,
Hated it, you said.
To bait or not to bait.
String hapless worms
On barbs of steel–
Cast lines
Into moist emptiness.
The slow elongated wait
For strike, or nothing.
Trudging home fishless;
All trout still submerged.
Raw potential
Morphed into defeat.

Hunting’s more your style.
To bring down deer
With single coursing shot–
Fisherman don’t see their prey.
Bait as intermediary
Rod as leverage
Hunter, gun and animal
On single plane aligned
Like theorem
Or graph.
And when you shot it
Ask me to help
Drag it home–
Gutted–
Eyes clouded, vacant;
Glazed with accusation.
Flesh-heavy
Blood-laden
Under bruised November skies.

Obvious metaphor.
I invoke the name
Of Saturn, of Abraham
Of Shiva and Ganesh.
But mostly Icarus
My feathers and wax
Your insecurities
And emotional thaumaturgy;
Lost, for a time, amid
Bottles and pipes and plungers.
And when I re-emerged
Amidst the flotsam
You stood there
Scanning the wreckage
Not without rebuke
But worried too–
I saw the tragic
Mythology transforming
You already; son dead
Or dying, point-broken
Bound to the alter
Perhaps from the instant
I forced myself
Like afterthought
From the tangle
Of her womb.
There are no angels.
No messengers
To abort
The sacrifice.
It’s a cruel game we play.
This endless eating
Of our children.
This life long ingesting
Of each other.
The feathers and wax.
The brash removal
Of our heads,
Only to replace it
With some mute animal.
Myth and Totem;
We are not born.
We accrete.
We’re products
Of this bare mythology.
Flying too close
To incandescent suns,
Tiny figures
Tumbling from the sky
Into irregular mounds of hay.

2

I’ve never had children
But If I’d had I’d name them
Michael, Shawn, Mariah.
I’d read them novels
David Copperfield, White Fang
Jump rope
Baseball
Grand Theft Auto
Whatever they want
Try not to wreck them
With my ruthless cynicism.
Or perhaps, with them,
I wouldn’t have it–
I’d take them fishing and still
Explain the ambivalence
Of the fish.
We would not hunt.
I wouldn’t own a gun
For fear that one day
One of them would finally
Get that it was phallic–
The jig up.
Masks off.
Has any child, anywhere,
Ever equated fishing rod
With his father’s cock?
Unlikely. Even feisty
Little Mariah, who one day
Will earn her Phd
In women’s studies
Will not go that far;
She sighs at my parochial bent
But leaves my fishing rod alone.

3

I am romantic;
Annoyingly confessional
Parnassus would shudder
And collapse; you don’t
Know these words
I use them on purpose
Perhaps you never took
Me fishing because there
Was too much time to talk.
Once we fought
About Fossey and Goodall
Which was which,
Who was shot by poachers
Who was still alive
Until mother had
To ask us both “Who cares?”
An ape is not a troglodyte.
Another word
Meant to confound
I could always defeat
You with my mind.
When it came to thought
I was Dadelaus and you,
Icarus. My knowledge
Torrid as the sun.

4

We’ve never stood
Side by side and looked
At stars together–
Wondered if there was life
On other planets,
Other systems than our own.
I craved contact beyond
The rough kiss of
Killing deer together;
What boy doesn’t long
For Sagittarius or Orion?
To have the cosmos explained
By someone? Even the Greeks,
Despite the pederasty, did this.
I found it in a book.
Became an expert
And when I tried to point
Them out discovered
Your eyes were fixed
Firmly on the ground
Life-long geologist
Finder of money
Earth-bound, over-awed by stars.

5

Coaching baseball
Scouts
Youth Group
Junior Fire Department
Each only for a season
Putting in your time
Until I finished
Me determined to be different
Not to hunt
To be extraordinary
To see life other than
As a frail extension of self;
I failed utterly.
I was Hamlet
Haunted by your ghost.
Drawn inexorably
Toward the ordinary
Claudius in us all;
My own mythology
Too thin to count for much–
You kept bursting through
Like rotten fruit.
I no longer stared at stars,
Too aware,
That gravity had me enslaved.
We didn’t talk
For nine years
Yet still I feasted at your table.
Childhood is so short.
So why do I have
So many images
Of you turning away?
The only prized moments
In soul-silent forests
Mutilated animals
Trussed upon the ground:
Heraldry of our mutual defeats.

6

You’re old now
You haven’t shot a deer
In twenty years (or more)
But still (if you haven’t
Given up reading this
Already) I’ve a few
More things to say.

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