My offering of poems this year for Father’s Day explores the contours of fatherhood:
Protection, dutiful service, stoicism, silence and sacrifice.
These are verses about fathers and sons, and fathers and daughters. They’re about gratitude, tenderness and love.
Can you choose a favourite?
CARE, by Craig Santos Perez
My 16-month old daughter wakes from her nap
and cries. I pick her up, press her against my chest
and rub her back until my palm warms
like an old family quilt. “Daddy’s here, daddy’s here,”
I whisper. Here is the island of Oʻahu, 8,500 miles
from Syria. But what if Pacific trade winds suddenly
became helicopters? Flames, nails, and shrapnel
indiscriminately barreling towards us? What if shadows
cast against our windows aren’t plumeria
tree branches, but soldiers and terrorists marching
in heat? Would we reach the desperate boats of
the Mediterranean in time? If we did, could I straighten
my legs into a mast, balanced against the pull and drift
of the current? “Daddy’s here, daddy’s here,” I
whisper. But am I strong enough to carry her across
the razor wires of sovereign borders and ethnic
hatred? Am I strong enough to plead: “please, help
us, please, just let us pass, please, we aren’t
suicide bombs.” Am I strong enough to keep walking
even after my feet crack like Halaby pepper fields after
five years of drought, after this drought of humanity.
Trains and buses rock back and forth to detention centers.
Yet what if we didn’t make landfall? What if here
capsized? Could you inflate your body into a buoy
to hold your child above rising waters? “Daddy’s
here, daddy’s here,” I whisper. Drowning is
the last lullaby of the sea. I lay my daughter
onto bed, her breath finally as calm as low tide.
To all the parents who brave the crossing: you and your
children matter. I hope your love will teach the nations
that emit the most carbon and violence that they should,
instead, remit the most compassion. I hope, soon,
the only difference between a legal refugee and
an illegal migrant will be how willing
we are to open our homes, offer refuge, and
carry each other towards the horizon of care.
MY FATHER’S GEOGRAPHY, by Afaa Michael Weaver
I was parading the Côte d’Azur,
hopping the short trains from Nice to Cannes,
following the maze of streets in Monte Carlo
to the hill that overlooks the ville.
A woman fed me pâté in the afternoon,
calling from her stall to offer me more.
At breakfast I talked in French with an old man
about what he loved about America–the Kennedys.
On the beaches I walked and watched
topless women sunbathe and swim,
loving both home and being so far from it.
At a phone looking to Africa over the Mediterranean,
I called my father, and, missing me, he said,
“You almost home boy. Go on cross that sea!”
LIVING ROOM, David Yezzi
God sees me. I see you. You’re just like me.
This is the cul-de-sac I’ve longed to live on.
Pure-white and dormered houses sit handsomely
along the slate-roofed, yew-lined neighborhood.
Past there is where my daughters walk to school,
across the common rounded by a wood.
And in my great room, a modest TV
informs me how the earth is grown so small,
ringed in spice routes of connectivity.
My father lived and died in his same chair
and kept it to one beer. There’s good in that.
Who could look down upon, or even dare
to question, what he managed out of life?
Age makes us foolish. Still, he had a house,
a patch of grass and room to breathe, a wife.
It’s my house now, and I do as I please.
I bless his name. I edge the yard, plant greens.
Our girls swing on the porch in a coming breeze.
My Father on His Shield, Walt McDonald
Shiny as wax, the cracked veneer Scotch-taped
and brittle. I can’t bring my father back.
Legs crossed, he sits there brash
from the war they would ship him to
within days. Cannons flank his face
and banners above him like the flag
my mother kept on the mantel, folded tight,
white stars sharp-pointed on a field of blue.
I remember his fists, the iron he pounded,
five-pound hammer ringing steel,
the frame he made for a sled that winter
before the war. I remember the rope in his fist
around my chest, his other fist
shoving the snow, and downhill we dived,
his boots by my boots on the tongue,
pines whishing by, ice in my eyes, blinking
and squealing. I remember the troop train,
steam billowing like a smoke screen.
I remember wrecking the sled weeks later
and pounding to beat the iron flat,
but it stayed there bent
and stacked in the barn by the anvil,
and I can’t bring him back.
Meeting with my Father in the Orchard, Homero Aridjis
Past noon. Past the cinema
with the tall sorrowful walls
on the point of coming down, I enter the orchard.
Show over, all of them have gone:
day laborers, dogs and doors.
My father is standing in front of a fig tree.
My mother has died. The children, grown old.
He’s alone, small threads of air
weave in and out of his tattered clothes.
For fear of getting too close and startling him
with my living presence,
I want to go straight by,
the strange one now with white hair whom he asks,
“Who’s that there?”
“Father, it’s me, your son.”
“Does your mother know you’re back. Will you stay and eat?”
“Father, for years now your wife has lain at rest
by your side in the town graveyard.”
Then, as if he has divined everything, he calls me by my childhood name
and gives me a fig.
So we met up, the living and the dead.
Then, each went on his way.
Photograph of a Father, by Anna Swisher
A man sits on a white wicker couch,
Which his wife picked out
One hand of warped and flaking branches grasping another
Next to a mutt he never wanted but has loved like a child
On a porch he built himself years ago
Stained, but never painted
Unfortunately aware of the photo being taken
Wearing his uniform of grease, sweat, and sawdust
Denim jeans whose fabric is struggling to cling together at the knees
Tan boots with too long of laces
Carrying the mud and dust of several years wear
Not resting, merely taking a break
From waking up early on the weekends to bake cinnamon rolls
From leaving the television on and walking away
From battling the lawn mower for the seventy fourth time
From talking on the cellphone while he drives
From forgetting to balance his checkbook
From visiting his sick father after work
From playing video games with his children
So that he may drink his Nantucket blend coffee
With cream and a spoonful of sugar
And ask his wife how her day has been.
FATHER, by Edgar Guest
My father knows the proper way
The nation should be run;
He tells us children every day
Just what should now be done.
He knows the way to fix the trusts,
He has a simple plan;
But if the furnace needs repairs,
We have to hire a man.
My father, in a day or two
Could land big thieves in jail;
There’s nothing that he cannot do,
He knows no word like “fail.”
“Our confidence” he would restore,
Of that there is no doubt;
But if there is a chair to mend,
We have to send it out.
All public questions that arise,
He settles on the spot;
He waits not till the tumult dies,
But grabs it while it’s hot.
In matters of finance he can
Tell Congress what to do;
But, O, he finds it hard to meet
His bills as they fall due.
It almost makes him sick to read
The things law-makers say;
Why, father’s just the man they need,
He never goes astray.
All wars he’d very quickly end,
As fast as I can write it;
But when a neighbor starts a fuss,
‘Tis mother has to fight it.
In conversation father can
Do many wondrous things;
He’s built upon a wiser plan
Than presidents or kings.
He knows the ins and outs of each
And every deep transaction;
We look to him for theories,
But look to ma for action.