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.

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A Poem For The Sunday Lectionary (Advent 2)

FROM THESE STONES
Matthew 3: 1-10

If I had come to John back then,
one of the crowd of the curious clothed
in self-satisfaction like armoured vests,

him in his camel skins, sunburned and bearded,
the locusts barely nourishing his stick-thin face,
hands bee-stung from foraging wild honey –

would his flinty eyes find mine as if
seeing into my stung and hungry soul,
seeing my heart heavy and jagged as stone,

as he says “Do not proclaim ‘I’m
Abraham’s child’ with your withered
love, your hopes such sand,

the forgotten good so shrunken inside
your skin…” And would he draw breath
then, seeing my own breath held

like an empty bowl, before those words
from which to make my meal:
“God can raise children of Abraham

from the desert stones.” From
these broken stones? the hardened
chalk that forms my heart? the blown dust

of my tired mind? From the raw dirt of
dailiness I drag around, that drags down me?
Then raise new life in me, good God,

beacon of believing Abraham, giver
of the locust and the wild bee,
God of the silent stones and the
water that changes them.

In Memory Of Nelson Mandela

Thinking of the passing tonight of Nelson Mandela, the following lines keep coming to me, from a poem by Stephen Spender entitled “I Think Continually”:

“I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul’s history
Through corridors of light where the hours are suns
Endless and singing. . . .

“Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields
See how these names are feted by the waving grass
And by the streamers of white cloud
And whispers of wind in the listening sky.
The names of those who in their lives fought for life
Who wore at their hearts the fire’s centre.
Born of the sun they travelled a short while towards the sun,
And left the vivid air signed with their honour.”

(Read the whole poem here.)

If there is any person of the recent past who has “left the vivid air signed with their honour”, it is Nelson Mandela.

Poetry

Hi! Welcome to the first post in my poetry blog.

Here is a recent poem I wrote about the subject.

POETRY

is a body part
in need of my daily attention,
a muscle to be
worked, a joint

to be flexed, skin
that requires renewing.
Maybe the point
is to put into motion

that part, that flesh
where a poem resides:
something that we find
just below the belly

and behind the eyes,
at the tips of the fingers and
the middle of the ears,
everywhere blood

and breath
make their home:
the top of the head,
the bottom of the heart,

the very centre
of the bone.