Monday, March 10, 2008

Poetry Train Monday - 40 - When I Remember My Dad

Last year at this time, my family and I were spending as much time as possible with my dad, Norman Phillips. He was in his last few weeks of life, passing away on March 24th from kidney cancer.

Of course, he's on my mind a lot. I'd like to share this poem which I wrote 20 years ago when I had moved to Toronto, spreading my wings and finding out who I was as a newly-fledged adult. I gave it to him for Father's Day, 1988. He carried this poem around with him for years, and showed it to all of his friends. More than once, I'm sure.

When I Remember My Dad

I remember
At the silliest times

Struggling with a jar of applesauce
I remember the annoyance
When I brought you a
Similar stubborn jar
You coached me to
Open myself
Rather than prove your brawn
"What if I wasn't here?"
You'd ask
"I'd eat something else instead - "

Yet the baby patiently waiting
For her lunch
Leaves me without glib options
I strain
Burst blood vessels
Run it under hot water
Tap it with a knife
Until the lid pops
And I feel your hand on my shoulder

The panic I felt
When I looked behind me
Expecting to see you running
With one hand on the back of my bike
Instead you were half a block away
Waving and laughing
I hopped off
And stopped
Enraged that you should trick me
It wasn't until you caught up
That I realized
I no longer needed training wheels
I was free to pedal the streets
On my own

How well you were cast
As Mom's foil
Christmas morning and Easter
You were up with us before dawn
You let us roam ahead on the rocks
The menacing sea below
I felt your trust
Heard you quiet Mom's fears
And felt your gaze keeping tabs
Through the boulders between us

I listened and watched
You taught me to
Pitch a tent
Snorkle in the sea
Change a tire
Mow the lawn
Pack a truck
Wishing I was your son
For your sake

By showing me
How to dismantle a bedframe
You freed me from the yoke
Of depending on men
Leaving me the time
To be myself
The race to find my protector
Cancelled on account of independence

When you taught me to drive
You kept your hands off the dashboard
I assumed your air of confidence
Your hand on the emergency brake
A secret safety net
You gave me room
To make mistakes
Your blood pressure remained stable
Even when I stalled in third gear
At a lunchtime rush hour intersection

How hard it must have been
To put the transmission in drive
Press the gas
One last wave out the window
Leaving me to make my way
So far from you
When I've known all along
How you wanted to cradle me
Safe against your shoulder
How that hand
Must have bled
As you pulled it back through the window

Copyright - Julia Smith - 1988