***Please note: The following writings are a collection of prose and poetry that I’ve been working on for the past two years. They’re by no means finished. Most were written before my father’s passing in 2017. I’m only just getting back to them now after using photography as catharsis for the most part.
Do you ever go to the Broadwater with bread to feel the tapered beaks of birds trace the frown lines on your hands?
The filaments of the wilting flowers impersonate my slightly hunched posture. The real feelings hidden by the already buried petals.
Our family hosted Christmas in the last month of spring. We drank and exchanged presents while Christmas wept conifers around its cornered tree. Cards were played, crackers were popped. Everyone lazed about waiting for stomachs to be filled with pudding. Christmas coiled itself in an unseen corner of our house. We could hear the faint collision of brass bells and the humming of carols. Christmas wanted you to say things to your family. You couldn’t. No one could. We took the red and green Christmas and made it yellow.
Nothing makes Dad happier than seeing with the eyes he gave you. That’s why you’re in Africa, to send lots of photos and pretend everything’s all right. Christmas is with you, hardened by the journey, trying to paint the room the colour of Dad’s complexion. Your wife’s family helps bridge the longitude between you and your Dad. But Christmas knows how to hurt. Christmas reminds everyone who’s here, who’s not and who may not be here much longer. Christmas wants you to say what no other part of you will. You separate words from feelings, ‘Yeah, Dad’s doing well. Thanks for asking.’
‘But how are you going?’
You say you’re doing well.
Tears don’t like to leave your eyes. They’re made sadder inside by the smile you borrow. Everything at the moment leaves you upset. Traffic jams. That song by The Middle East. Men your Dad’s age walking with their dads. The night sky on a late night drive. It only ever hits you alone. You are strong when Mum’s crying. Allow yourself to cry later, if you can.
Remember how he dressed like his business self to tell you his innings was ending. How he let himself be seen just once when he hugged you like a dying man. The pain you see after the Endone plays a melody through his body. The soon to be For Sale sign outside the house you grew up in. Every shovel and pickaxe a weapon of your slow expression. An expression of something you can’t separate the feelings from. The song you’ve been asked to play at the funeral. The church where we’ll sing. The cemetery we’ve been to twice before. Remember all that then try and cry. You can’t because sadness is sometimes anger. You’re a fist away from hating heaven. From reaching out to a stateless sky and punching holes for wanting him. Dylan Thomas taught you to cover your fists with heaven’s light. Show Dad the fight. Show Dad the scars. Show Dad how much you want his slowing blood to quicken.
Everyone says their dad is the best dad in the world. They say you can’t choose your family. And Dad says they’ll keep him on ice until you get home. It won’t come to that because I say my Dad carries the courage of several wars. I say bad can’t exist without its opposite.
I remember every muscle he made. The first open-faced wave he pushed me into. Hearing his voice every Saturday from the sideline. When I lived with him up the coast, sitting on the rocks together watching evening’s dark swell lace the bay with fingerprints. Telling him I was going to propose and knowing he was behind me at the altar. Watching him hold my niece and wishing I were small enough to be cradled. Sitting on his shoulders in the photograph inside my wallet. The memory of his fingers walking piano keys across his thigh, playing a tune he learnt by ear. I always held his hand hoping to hear echoes of his music. And I do.
My brother’s away too. He’s with his family in America. But my little sister was home for Christmas. We’re a family scattered across three oceans. We’re happy. Happy because Christmas isn’t the undeveloped antagonist I made it out to be. I see the character arc. I see the real Christmas. It’s not about stockings, feeding Santa’s reindeer, sadness and expecting loss. Christmas was a milestone in the hero’s journey, the mountain Dad looks down from.
The vacuum cleaner
haunts the cupboard
and only leaves
to skim the stained carpet,
with a stomach of dust
to sit patiently
atop its black coil.
The photo album opens like a Chinese fan. Its pages the bamboo blades of your bending legacy, choosing which side of the fold you lie. I sit at home, watched by a globular light above, the black pupil forged of magnetic gnats dying in its south pole.
You fell away with virgin blankets,
apache plume and sand sage thickets.
And only the memories are sown in-
to the seasonal patterns. It seems
everything is tumbleweed, though
bark plates and needles bleed
the evergreen of ponderosa.
Are you where finite shapes
rule future memories? Where
I dream I peel back the pall
and crawl into your palm.
Fingernails make my shelter’s skeleton,
packed tight with matted hair
to warm against the cold
deserts whistling in your bones.
Down here in the dark, barely
enough breath for memory,
I will be the peeling veneer
of your paulownia century
bending lightly at the black.
The passerines do not sing
different songs; there is still
no echo’s trace in your chest.
But I’ll survive on fallen petals,
only if you drink the nectar
I brought to sustain you.