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June 30, 2012

Our Fathers' Many Legacies

Do you ever feel that Father's Day simply does not receive the same attention that Mother's Day does? I often do. Even in the Bible story about the birth of Jesus, as it is told to children in Sunday schools around the world, I think Joseph is a person we tend to gloss over. I don't know the number, but I'm willing to guess that there are many more Madonna and Child paintings than there are Joseph and Child paintings in the world. Fathers are important, though, as we well know. They may not put their arms around us as easily or as often as a mother does, yet in a real sense, they can be the rock beneath our feet, the shelter over our heads and hearts. I received enough great submissions about fathers that it wasn't possible to get them all done by Father's Day, so you'll start to see them posted here in July, beginning with this evocative poem by Liz Davies about her hero--her father.

My  Father  Walking

by Liz Davies
I remember my father walking, walking,
Walking sandy bushveldt paths for miles,
Feet shifting in his soft, worn boots,
Brown arms swinging from wide shoulders,
Long legs moving his body along.
He learned this walk as a farm boy,
Walking tireless and on for miles
Searching thickets and rocks for wayward beasts
In his loose loping kind of style. In old photos
He looks from under his helmet with deepset eyes;
They came in handy, those fifty mile stares,
As he scanned horizons the war years away
In the desert sun, while the twenty-five-pounders
Roared, spat fire, and shook him to the bone,
Until history overtook him and roped him
Into years in a prison camp, wasted years
Of hard forced labour, and cruel cold.
He told us, little brother and me, of his war
In a jovial voice that made light of it all,
Like an action movie with sound effects,
But it was in dead earnest. He came home
With legs pitted by shrapnel, showed us the scars
Down hollowed calves; lungs fretted with cold, he said,
Skin stretched pale over ribs, teeth loose and bad,
Hearing gone and face sunk in. And safe at home
He slept a while, ate softly, remembered slow,
Till one day he woke strong, got up and walked again.


Poem, copyright Liz Davies, all rights reserved. Previously published in the anthology Heroes by Ransome.  
 Liz Davies' father went from Botswana to South Africa to join the armed forces. 
He died in 1974.

June 26, 2012

The following poem is a powerful one. If you can "stay" with it, it is well worth your while to read. Its author Hannah Mae Bezeredi is an energetic young woman with a keen interest in helping organizations and has participated several times in "Out of the Darkness" community walks sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Hannah's team is Team Tobie, named in honor of her older sister. Although we have corresponded little, it doesn't take long to have a sense of Hannah's inner strength. In our correspondence, Hannah included a beautiful quote:
"A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love." --Saint Basil
I found much fruit in Hannah's poem: a deep honesty, a true love, a capacity to express pain, which is necessary to all of us in the face of suffering, and a simple beauty hard to describe in words.
 By Hannah Mae Bezeredi
Every June I attend her funeral, so far I've attended four.
"How long has it been since you last saw her?"
"Years," I say to him,
as he wipes away the tears that seem to come
from a never-ending source within me
"I'd take my situation any day over yours," he says,
and I sigh, "Indeed.'

I'll try to relate...

It was eleven pm on June 11th, and I was nineteen
oh, it was a good, good night,
a time when I felt most alive,
vivaciously so.

In all the times since
that I've fallen into a stranger’s arms
to lament this night,
I've never believed my own words,
the strings of memories I attempt to flee in agony
I always resort to those precious hours
before I knew
that life would change with a single call,
the time before she was dead and we were endlessly guilty,
remorseful for the remainder of our days

Two am:  my Mother woke me up to say these words
that live on so vividly inside me:
"Tobbie's dead, she killed herself."
I'm dreaming, I'm dreaming!
This is very real, but it's not true.
It has to end,
but it never did
and it never will.

Two-eleven pm:  the tears that have never stopped begin flowing.
We pack our bags, start driving.
A haze has come over our hearts,
forcing us into talks of days to come;
collecting personal belongings, calling hours, our last viewing.
all the usual talk about dying
that must be carried on.
the body keeps moving
even as heart and mind stand still,
watching in horror

That night I couldn't sleep alone.
I asked anybody to lie down beside me,
certain there was a spirit surrounding us,
watching us light candles in her honor,
shaking our heads and wiping our eyes.
"I can't believe it, can't believe it."
Despite the horror, sleep came upon me,
but I never saw her angel that night.

All the days and hours in between,
really don't matter.
Our eyes swelled like balloons on our faces for days upon days.
It was the first time I'd seen the men in my life cry,
but all that didn't matter.

There was one thought among us,
that death could be brought on
by one's own doing.
How could anyone possibly accept that?
It seemed to violate the laws of nature
and our understanding of it.
I felt that I didn't know  my own flesh and blood,
and the fact that I never would
came to haunt me more,
but that was our circumstance
our “karma" as my Mother always put it,
as though we somehow deserved this plight.

At the funeral
I ascended the ramp behind my parents,
both of them resisting the temptation to turn
from rounding the corner to face death,
resisting the denial that rose up inside them.
They didn't want to see her,
not like this,
but they knew they had to.

They led my mother in first
and that's when she screamed.
That awful noise lives on in me.
The sound solidified our loss,
her death no longer in question.

There she was, lifeless in her coffin,
her high-collared shirt only
half-covering the bruises on her neck.
Her long blond hair turned brittle in death,
not the beautiful mane I remembered as a little girl.

At that moment
I kissed her clammy cheeks and felt repulsed,
repulsed that I felt repulsed,
and ashamed that I could not look her in her blue eyes.
I've always been told that
the dead don't see or speak,
but I looked on, hopeful she would hear me
say that I loved her,
that I would miss everything about her that
I never thought to notice before
and to tell her that she was most beautiful.

Although she did not see how precious
life could be in her time,
I felt that in death she knew it
and she would give it all
to take it back.

We were our own detectives in those days that followed,
but all the clues amounting to the same conclusion:
She was gone.

In weeks to come, we would shut closets religiously
And stare at curtain rods as though memories hung from them,
obsess over bags of clothing that she used to wear,
her scent lingering on them.

If there was courage, we would sort through her belongings,
but mostly we became silent, retreating into denial.
It would take us years to discuss the things
for which we loved her most
and all the ways in which we love her still.

"How long do you think a heart can grieve?" he asked.
"Forever," I said as I turned away from him in tears.

Poem copyright Hannah Mae Bezeredi, all rights reserved.