We enjoyed a highly romantic Valentine’s Day. Snowed in, my beloved kindly brought dinner; homemade butter chicken, aloo ghobi and rice. It’s a blessing, spending time with a fellow foodie/sensualist.
I’m reading Eavan Boland’s inspirational Journey With Two Maps: Becoming a Woman Poet, thinking about my relationship to my father. Or, fathers.
“And he, the supremely important and attended-to presence.” Despite all their conflicts my mother treated my father that way, always providing the lion’s share. In return he belittled her. And largely ignored his daughters, until angered. “Standing over their statements, their promises. Looking up at them every morning, I felt like what I was, what I would always be: a daughter.”
That resonates. I still feel that way, all these years later. Hence the following poems. Dear old Dad’s been on my mind lately. Haunting me. Father hunger? So many of us are afflicted. I’ve worked hard to accept that I will never win his approval. C’est la vie.
Our ruthlessly peculiar family
reached its zenith
by conquering ten years
of inertia, indecision and delays
to leave the sun struck flatlands
with ninety-three bucks
and several shreds of dignity.
A mountaineer cannot be confined
to the wide-open prairie,
he must ascend
those fabled Goliaths,
made to see over
but dammit his daughters
must see them,
nay, live in them,
for them, as he did.
A day later the Rockies
emerged from the horizon
shrouded in their immortal grandeur.
Hours later, in a squall
and far from our coastal destination,
the loaded down station wagon
broke down at the top of Rogers Pass.
Dad steadily made his way
through a maw
of flying snow and frozen scree
to the nearest settlement.
We, snivelling, huddled
our skinny girl bodies together
in a nest of blankets and parkas,
blissfully unaware of the lives
mountains take via avalanches,
fern concealed crevasses, hypothermia.
His landing in a bantam mining town
provided a foothold of two years,
working to pay off the motel bill,
squirrel away savings for the final lag
of our journey to Vancouver,
its peaks and a new chapter of peril.
MY FATHER’S CHURCH
The four of us hiked together
nearly every Sunday
regardless of season
though we didn’t call it hiking,
we called it going for a drive.
A drive could involve fishing,
prospecting, duck hunting,
huckleberry or hazelnut picking,
a frozen pond. Lungs shivering,
ice-skates anchored my flighty mind,
my sisters’ willowy limbs.
A drive could involve cutting
down a hemlock for firewood,
near misses with black bears and logging trucks.
To our delight, Dad would carve whistles
out of mountain ash then wince at the racket,
much the way he cringed
whenever I pointed to shiny pebbles
and shouted, “Gold!”
“Fool’s gold.” “They’re still pretty.”
Once I found porcupine quills on the forest floor,
foolishly jabbing them into my thigh
instead of placing them in my pocket.
As determined as I was to pull them out
by myself I could not, astonished to discover
that those buggers truly are barbed!
Embarrassed and dreading his contempt
I said nothing the entire ride home
where I was forced to announce
the unbearable pain with a yelp,
promptly removed with pliers.
I don’t recall anger.
My father was at peace
in the woods.