My father took a while to die.
I spent six months with him to see
If I could help him through his misery.
But, the effort’s hard to satisfy.
The work is difficult, to die.
He spent his last years walking Brooklyn streets to paint
His watercolors. Spots of green and brown and blue
To catch the dance of leaf and branch and wind and light.
For friend, he had an old grey cat as thoughtful, gentle, fragile as himself.
His paintings sing the glories of the living world. He’d really got it right.
He tottered when he walked.
He was, finally, eighty -three,
But surrendered most reluctantly.
He wandered when he talked.
He savored life. At death, he balked.
High cheekboned, Lincolnesque, with black hair shock and world eating eyes,
His anger knew that many things men do are thoughtless, vicious, wrong.
With color, light, and patterned harmonies he laundered off his wrath
To construct a universe apart, outside the world of man.
He fathomed nature’s tapestries and made his own enlightened path.
I tried to cook him meals.
He could eat but little.
So – to the hospital
For medical appeals.
Fate would make no easy deals.
I remember morning on a dark and lonely beach in Florida.
My mother and my father perched on folding canvas stools
Before their easels. Dawn rolled in across a blue-black sea
On broken neon tubes. They tangled with its sorcery
With paper squares and lines of paint and craft and artistry.
With members of the staff, some small joke.
He grinned and smiled a lot when he spoke.
In surgery they cut out several bits
And slightly jumbled up his wits.
The world had fractured after he awoke.
Back in the early twenties, flush with windfall cash,
He and my mother had gaily looped through Europe;
Holland, Paris, Italy, and stayed a while in Tunis where they’d portray
In the white, hot, heat red legged Arabs in white burnoose
Strolling though sun barred souks of white domed cities in elegant ballet.
It helped some, but then they said
The cancer had begun to spread.
One more time to cut. They might
Be able to get things right.
He faced this with a silent, hopeful dread.
Times were hard in thirty-two and no one knew when the money would come in.
Some mornings, Brooklyn winter winds would howl up through Narrows Avenue.
My mother, father, I, my brother, stayed in bed with blankets on,
Keeping warm ’til we’d get the cash to order coal.
But I’d never thought us poor. Not until the times were long gone.
The second stay in intensive care
Left him with a flat and puzzled stare.
Like a great iceberg sailing in an alien sea,
Great chunks kept falling from his mind and ceased to be.
He’d lost alignment. Who and how and when and why and where.
He came to visit me in nineteen forty-five in Madison Wisconsin and in Florida.
Two places, army bases more than a thousand miles from home.
Many things come back from these two times, but remembrance bids
The strongest lesson that he taught me then. He passed to me
His deep skill with which I learned to love my kids.
In the ward he fought the painful bite
Of IV tubes. He tore them off at night.
To secure those silver fangs they tied his wrists,
Which foiled his outrage and its consequent resists.
He was conscious, but recovery was slight.
In nineteen fifty-two they discovered cancer in Irene, his wife, my mother.
She took a half a year to fall into the chasm formed from fright and pain.
It sucked her flesh, revealed her architecture made of bone,
And cast her into black-eyed madness, numbed with dope, before she died.
Somehow, he fabricated will and strength to carry on alone.
Pneumonia came to squat inside his chest.
They holed his throat to give him oxygen and rest
And thereby stilled his voice, his line to me.
His life was sinking down to perigee.
We sat, held hands, and simply, felt depressed.
While I waited out his time I lived in his place, not mine.
The days, I spent with him. The nights, I let TV put me to sleep.
His old gray cat would hop up on the bed and curl behind my knee.
Her eyes held doubt, unease, and worry. Mine did too.
We tried to make the best of a time mostly bad. On this we could agree.
One morning, 2 am, they made the call.
They said, “He just died.” That’s all.
I somehow thought he’d last a little longer.
Towards the end he seemed slightly stronger.
He’s gone now, behind that damned impenetrable wall.
Strangely, that same week, the cat died too.
And Picasso. So came the thought concurrently,
“What good companions they’d all be.”
I have him still, inside, most preciously.
As I lived in him, so he lives in me.