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.