My father has become a poet. I should have seen this coming. When he retired he learned piano, then guitar. His fascination with music evolved into a fascination with the “poetry” of the notes. Then the language of the music. I don’t know exactly which came first–he began listening to music from Spain and Catalan. His fascination with the singing turned to a love of the lyrics, then, naturally poetry.
As my dad’s passions for poetry evolved I also got quite a different experience with poetry from my oldest daughter.
Her Eighth grade culminated in a spring Poetry Slam. The students submitted poems and a portion deemed best were selected to read aloud on stage in front of parents and family for Poetry Slam Night. My oldest daughter’s poem was one of those selected.
She and I had become estranged earlier in winter after a huge confrontation. She seemed increasingly tense since the previous fall. Her relationship with her best friend ended strangely and she wouldn’t tell me why. And she became angry and emotional in our house. In fact tensions for all my daughters grew in the transition of my divorce from their mom. These tensions were heightened when my fiancé and I bought a house and moved in together in December.
My daughter and I didn’t speak much between February when she ran out into a cold, snowy night and refused to return and the night of the Poetry Slam in May. I felt an obligation to attend the slam out of some hope that showing up would encourage her to come back to talking. In the grand scheme of things throughout time there have been massive miscalculations. Napoleon at Waterloo. The Johnstown Flood. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby.
When my daughter’s chance to speak came, she let me have it. I haven’t been able to get a copy of her poem despite some effort the past two years but I remember enough of the sensation to feel my spine prickle and my chest tighten again just as they did that night. The poem was beautifully written and presented in its surgical angst.
With precision, she carved holes in me as I sat with a hundred parents and family. She stood and spoke with passionate anger at being left behind for my new life and family, as if I had discarded she and her sisters in some wretched attic. It was as wonderful as it was painful. As she spoke, she glared straight at me. I cried though I tried not to show it. I was fascinated by her word choice, the music of her rhyme and pace, as much as I was by the hurt behind her words.
I cheered and clapped as she finished, but I doubt she saw that. I was overjoyed and proud of her. And I was humiliated and sad at the pain I had caused at the same time.
Several times since I have tried to write a poem to counter her “in the attic” notion but my words are feeble. I consider it one of life’s great inequities that I haven’t been able to say to her, “Yeah, but….” in response. It won’t do any good. She and I are currently locked in a cycle we can’t seem to break: she remains angry at me now more than two years since she left. We both take stabs at some sort of a relationship. I text her every so often and she has tried coming back to my fiancé’s and my house a couple of times but says it’s too far and too uncomfortable. I just don’t know what to do.
If only I could write a poem that broke through the hurt and anger and loss of the past couple of years. Maybe I could soften her disappointment in me. She told me recently that she has felt like she hasn’t had a father for a couple years. Yeah, I get it. I miss her too.
A storm broke. It blustered
and hurtled through the tumultuous sky. The downpour soaked
through the open window onto my cheek
as I lay
You crashed out of the house
and onto the street,
running from me.
I put you
in the attic, you said.
Left you behind, you said.
The sky is blue today. The grass
Now the storm is over
someone else’s house.
Where are you?