My Pap, as longtime readers may have picked up at some point, died almost six years ago. Earlier this year, around the fifth anniversary of his death, I wrote a poem about visiting him in the hospital the day he died. Today would have been his 80th birthday, so I figured it was as good a time as any to write another poem, this one focusing more on the happy times and not so much on the emphysema and the renal failure and whatnot.
Another Poem for Pap
The last one dwelt on death, on last gasps heard down hospital corridors.
But you aren’t your dying self when I conjure you in my dreams.
You don’t lie depleted in your bed, too small for your small white gown.
Not needing to take your breath from a hose, you walk steady and strong
through the house you bought with your muscle and perspiration.
What was the world like, I wonder, when you were born?
Foolishly I never thought to ask, so that now I can only
assemble the pieces you dropped along the way as best I can, then
stand back and study the unfinished puzzle, trying to imagine the picture it made.
You arrived two months after the crash, to parents who had left the
land where our family had been born and bred for a hundred years.
They returned in time for you to grow up in the same short shadow of
Fairview Mountain where I would one day climb trees, and swat baseballs
for my Labrador to run down.
As a young man you met your wife, the girl your buddy brought on a
double-date whose hand you held in secret across the back seat; the
girl you married at the parsonage with your older brother as a witness; the girl
with whom you raised a son; the girl who stayed with you
in that same house for fifty years.
By the time I came along you had been in and out of the Navy and worked
thirty years on the railroad, riding trains up and down the continent.
I remember so well when I was a boy, the admonishment to be quiet lest I
wake you, but you never let on that you were angry when I did. And I remember
the day you came home and announced your retirement,
off-handedly, as though it had nearly slipped your mind.
Pap, I wish you had been a less modest man. I wish you had been a writer, kept
a journal, written letters. But I have what I have: your wallet, your watch, your
knife, your top dresser drawer just as you left it; your arguments with Dad, your threats
to replace Granny with a Mennonite, your jokes and stories (still the best ones I
know), our drives to school on early winter mornings, our talks between innings of
Braves and Orioles games, staying in the car with you while Granny went in to buy
groceries; you running out to Sheetz to buy batteries on Christmas morning,
you bringing us sweet cinnamon rolls for breakfast at Woodmont, learning to
drive in your hunter green Cherokee and failing the test the first time because
of the rolling stop I picked up from you, eating eggs and fried potatoes
and drinking coffee at Windy Hill after I passed the test on my second try.
Your short Brylcreem-infused hair.
Your navy blue ballcap worn high on the head.
Your pot belly.
Your ever-growing collection of camcorders.
The foam rubber cushion you mounted on the sharp corner of your heavy wooden
workbench after I bumped my head on it once and cried.