Elegy and Argument

 

Behind the wheel, as my stepdad grew smaller,

he'd stop sometimes halfway into a turn

and wonder where he was going. He'd shake his head

slowly as if to hear some inner gps, or to wake

 

himself up back home under the twang of wind

in metal pie pans hung from his carport rafters.

Pie pans, wind socks, knotted kite tails—more like

some grade school class had been asked to decorate

 

his retirement complex, not an old man

on a wobbly ladder, railing at blackbirds.

If I shake my head, I can bring back those pans,

their faint aluminum clang, bring back

 

his pursed lips, his soothing sounds, all affection

in old age, deaf to our past debates about fact

and feeling, his endless lectures on goals

while I stared at clouds, drifting inside my head.

 

No surprise years later when my daughter wrote

in her fourth grade science report, "The brain

looks like a cauliflower, or a walnut halved."

Or when my son shook his head, as if that

 

kind of thought would send us all back

to the four humors and leeches. He chose

the surgery channel on tv, and my two selves

glared as if each would cancel the other out.

 

But what fact doesn't come wrapped in feeling?

And surely feelings need facts the way rivers

need banks, not to mention the way bankers

need rivers, and my stepfather needed his boat

 

to entertain adjusters, appraisers, directors,

men who lived by numbers but didn't count

on bottom muck and eelgrass oozing into

their sharp talk of expenditure and return.

 

What spoke louder was my stepdad's weeping

beside his aged dog, his growing teary

over any gesture of love he didn't have

to bully or earn, his pride in both my children,

 

so finally we agreed, it's all mingled:

my son who knows ligament, muscle, bone

in English and Latin, my daughter who reads

the subtlest feelings that flicker across a face,

 

two sides of the brain I long to see embrace,

or shake till they create that tuning fork hum,

aftermath of plucked strings, small hint of music

feeling its way through substance after substance:

 

cauliflower, walnut, skull, old man fussing

over blackbirds that mess his car, hanging

more spinning, clattering pie pan contraptions,

as if sun splatter and sound haven't already

 

filled to overflowing those winged tricksters.

"My car, my car," his gestures seemed to insist—

driven by feeling as his skills diminished?

Fact is, long after it hurt him to get in

 

and out of the car, long after it was safe

to sit beside him, I'd sit beside him

who had nothing to do with my conception,

but who fathered me just the same.

 

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