Words, and Fathers and Sons



for Thomas and Frederick

Right from the start I should have seen it coming. The predictable phrasing, the expected lighthearted laugh. I read you again last night, thinking of fathers, thinking of sons. I know your work. I know you know I know your work; the repetition, the subtle humor, the this-was-my-life-too reaction. Was it Ode to Your Father? Maybe. Or maybe Mosaic. Doesn’t matter.

I should have seen it coming.

The casual start, the familiar tones. The narrative rise, the trademark dialogue. The way you write is the way we talk at lunch at that oyster joint. I know the style the way I know the lady with the drinks is going to comment about our return, offer us menus, tell us the specials, not write down our usual order. It’s routine.

Yet I never see it coming. This last time it took two pages of standard stanzas before you made that turn, me tagging along like some newbie waiter. Like the time we talked about our dads, and how tragically humorous it all is, how funny and horrific it all is, and we swapped stories until we couldn’t breathe from laughing—predictable, anticipated. Then somewhere just after she cleared the dishes and asked if we wanted dessert, you remembered a cologne, or was it his robe, and we sat a long time in silence, tried to digest the reality of it all.

Always, you shift gears and make that turn, move us away from where we thought we were going. And I know you will take us there the way you always do, but I always forget, always think this time it will be different, it will stay the same. I never see it coming until it comes, and then I wonder how I never saw it coming.

A bent perfection, the way it makes sense in the end, the way you take us around your elbow and past your ass without a glance back, how you seem to let go all the while keeping it tight; and every time is the same, the way it’s always different. The well-timed turn: predictably unexpected.

Like when you said sometimes he forgets what is real and what is less than real, like westerns or how tall you are. I said for me it was the lucidity, that last time, how just before the end it felt like the beginning again, and he was young and so was I, and then he let go and just left me there, alone, completely expecting him to stay even though I knew, I mean I knew because I saw it coming, was warned it was coming, that he had to go. Nothing prepares you for the turn, no matter how often you sit there knowing, waiting, anticipating, prepared. We had been talking about where he was and why he was there. He made a joke and we both laughed while the clock spun back two or three years. The nurse came in, asked if he was okay, and the sorrowful tone returned, the distance and incomprehension.

And I cried, just like I thought I would, and it caught me off-guard, and I left. Outside the October morning crawled into my spine, stiffened me against the cold. It was clear, that day, and I could see to the horizon and beyond the horizon, all the deep October blue that was beyond the horizon that morning.

On the radio the weather called for rain.


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