Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Summer He Died

The summer he died
My father discovered plants.
He grew sunflowers that leapt
over his tiny house, tomatoes
that burst in the heat, stunted
corn and rows of string beans
eaten over one July night
by a pack of ravenous moles.
He could hardly stand; he’d
lost fifty pounds—his hair,
thick and brown into his 80’s,
simply disappeared. We rose
together at mid-morning; he
ate Wheaties with strawberries
that I bought at the Farmers
Market—he told me he hated
the thought of dying and missing
his breakfast, the newspaper,
the thought of that first cigarette
(he’d quit a decade before—like all
men his age he’d ash his Lucky in
the orange half-moon of his eggs.)
Then we’d reminisce for an hour:
I knew nothing about him, nor did
he know a thing about me: fathers
and sons practice silence like monks
locked together in a desert of love.
After lunch we’d find a ballgame.
He would fall asleep and quietly fart;
I’d go for a walk, up and down blocks
of large empty houses--I never saw a soul.
Later I would drive to the store for corn
and steaks; he had no appetite and would
vomit while I cooked. I wasn’t
sad—we were standing on the edge
of something we couldn’t name or feel--
time ended in the blackness of his dying.
On the phone my wife told me about the
children; I could picture her in our bright
living room, thousands of miles from where
I stood. The house would be hot and loud
with music—my father’s house was silent
and smelled of rust and mildew;
the cicadas chorused in a manic circle—
the heat pushed the outdoors
onto the porch where we sat, remembering
the lightning bugs that I had caught
in Mason jars, the cool nights when we
could smell the faintly salty Eastern breeze,
the far off sound of fireworks from the
boardwalk, the men laughing as they
played bocce and drank beer,
the way your hand would hurt as you
dug into the icy tub for a Coke,
the snap of the church key and the cold
that hurt your throat and eye—
my mother calling us in for dessert,
my father telling me to go ahead, he’d sit a while
longer on the stoop, watching the kids play
stickball in the gathering darkness.
And the way the house was so full of us,
the five of us, the rooms dense with our
lives, the dishes drying in the sink, the
tired way my legs would feel after another
day of being alive. And my father would
come in the sit and not say a word: he was
locked up in himself even then, as I would
be when I was his age, a silence that was
watching and waiting for something better
to come along, when there was nothing better,
when there was nothing better to come.

In Memory of George Ovitt, Sr. November 13, 1919-July 6, 2010

Happy Fathers Day to all of our readers....(that's my sister, Patricia, with my father, mid-1950's)

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