Reading Tim Seibles Poetry after Thinking of My Father


It’s Father’s day so of course I was thinking of my dad. Then I picked up One Turn, and now I can’t figure out how right from the start I didn’t see it coming; the predictable phrasing, the expected lighthearted laugh. I read you again today, thinking of fathers, thinking of sons. I know your work. I know you know I know your work; the repetition, the subtle humor, my “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. We’ve done enough readings together for me to know better; 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.

That’s what makes it work–lunch and your poems. It is familiar, like an old favorite song, and then at some point, even when I know it’s coming, something brand new happens. This last time it took two pages of standard stanzas before you made that turn, me tagging along like some newbie waiter-in-training. It reminded me of one of the many times we talked about our dads, and how tragically humorous it all was, how funny and horrific it all was, 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 his cologne, I remembered his deep-voiced “Well, hello,” and we sat a long time in silence, tried to digest the reality of it all.

That’s how your poetry works, by the way.

Always, you shift gears and make that turn, move me away from where I thought we were going. And I know you will take me 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. It’s a bent perfection, the way it makes sense in the end, the way you take us around that corner without a glance back, how you seem to let the phrasing cut loose all the while keeping it tight; and every time is the same, the way it’s always different.

When it is late like this and my head is not clear, I can’t remember if it was One Turn Around the Sun or a conversation we had at Bangkok Garden.

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 of that consciousness 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 that 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. But the nurse came in like some dangling modifier, asked if he was okay, and the distance and incomprehension returned.

And I cried, just like I thought I would, and it caught me off-guard, and I left. Later, months probably, you and I talked about that, the crazy spin that happens in someone’s mind, a mind that understood math and history like they were prepositions and he was the master of all grammar; another who knew science like he was casually fielding introductory clauses. Then, for them both, one particular day was suddenly fragmented, lacking a subject. And it hurts. Man, it hurts like not knowing what to say can hurt, and I just sit there, speechless, wondering what the hell happened.

Life, Tim, right? Didn’t we decide one day that we’re all lobsters, we’re all dogs?

But, look, here on my nightstand, today of all days, is One Turn Around the Sun, in which you immortalized the old man, kept him alive, made him young again. It’s like what O’Brien said, remember? Something about how dying is like being an old book up on a library shelf, an old book no one has checked out in a while, just sitting there covered in dust waiting for someone to check you out.

Wow. Anyway, I don’t know whether to read, write, or just lay here and remember, which we decided is the first rough draft of our writing.

Yeah, anyway, Happy Father’s Day Thomas Seibles. Happy Father’s Day Dad.

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