A Poem For My Father – III

PICTURES
(Robert M.C. King: April 9, 1926 – August 7, 2015)

A friend told me once how, waking to her house on fire,
she and her husband grabbed the photo albums first.
She said, “You can replace everything but memories.”

At your visitation, Dad, we had the photo displays
and the Powerpoint slideshow, a few of the pictures taken
in your younger years: you in your Boy Scout uniform,

delivering a speech at the Boys’ Parliament, a few
of you as a young husband and father, ever smiling,
your blonde hair wavy and full. But most of the photos

were post-polio, the hair all but vanished but not your smile;
there you were at weddings, graduations, reunions,
posing with dogs and grandkids, wearing the paper hats,

enjoying every party. Good memories. But what I would
have given, Dad, had I the power of omniscience,
the power to have foreseen this day and event,

to have hidden a camera inside my pocket on just one
of those Sundays you preached in our little village church,
the light from the pink and yellow windows falling

on your blue choir robe as you went from pulpit to choir
and back again, your limp not slowing you down,
your voice lifting clear and strong, the notes

for your sermon scratched on scraps in pencil;
the moment, if not the words, etching into my mind
where no fire of distance, no flame of time,

can ever diminish such memory’s pleasure.

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A Poem For My Father – II

Robert M. C. King turned 88 this month.

HAND

Laid across my face once, made me
see stars, my left ear ringing.
Both our cheeks burning.

In the car for church, smoothed
my morning hair, his pocket comb
repeating (his own hair mostly missing).

Summer Saturdays crusted, stained
with soil (his hoe a cane until he gained
the garden, then weeds flailing –

his leg that had been lamed, not
his hand). How strange to me
to see it age, the slow deforming.

Long so deft at carving beef,
correcting math, pressing the pants
for Sunday, shoes polishing,

here it is in the last weekend ritual:
stiff, bent, wrinkled,
shakily placing each cribbage peg.

The cards carefully dealing.

A Poem For My Father

There was a huge police funeral in Toronto this week for an officer who died in the course of his duty — tributes poured out for the kind of man he was. And of course the tributes flowed at the massive memorial service — as they have around the world — for Nelson Mandela, as inspirational a human as history has given us.

To me this is a good time, then, to share a poem about a man who has personally been an inspiration to me, whose example in life I wish I could live up to; whose attributes of courage, faithfulness, kindness I wish I had more of; whose love for family and optimism in daily living continue to buoy himself as well as those who visit him. The man I speak of is my father, now living in the Northridge nursing  home in north Oakville.

Here is a poem I wrote a while ago:

THE WALKER

The old man tells his children of the summer
after the war he laboured on the bridge
over the muddy Humber

at lunchtimes wrestling, just for fun,
with men who’d fought as soldiers overseas;
of high school football years, one of

the 60-minute men, practically padless
(knocked out once tackling a future pro);
how at U of T he’d run to classes

across the width of campus, rarely late,
barely out of breath. . . . Almost never
does any conversation take

a turn to that which, 50 years ago,
laid him flat-backed months long, more
than a little near death — the polio —

except to tell last of what pace,
past the pain and the white walls,
he successfully got rid of the brace.

________

His home now a room, one of many in halls.
In his chair he wheels each metre,
and though the courtyard is small

he repeats every corner, sometimes in snow
(though jacketed just to comfort his children).
Not all of them live near, but on his phone,

tireless hunter, he tracks their lives,
dutifulness pinned to his calendar;
calls often to ensure they’re on time

for chat, a game of cards. Then the old man
grasping, standing on the handles of his walker.
While his grown child hovers, hiding hands,

eyes tensed on each jelly-jointed step,
he makes his march of the carpeted street,
arthritic knobbed knuckles clenched,

bent shoulders shaking, breaths hissing.
And long before the chair can take him once more
the floor cracks open:

the muddy Humber glistens
beneath his feet.