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Poetry Sunday: “Father’s Day,” by Susan Browne

The big-time corporate media that originally brought us the Hallmark Holidays has been supplanted by a social media that teaches us to view them with consummate suspicion and irony. “Hearts and Flowers hooey” and “corporate scam” is what we tend to think now when our calendar tells us it’s nearly time for Mother’s or Father’s Day. May’s Facebook was full of rants against Mother’s Day, condemning it as a capitalist ploy to get consumers to buy expensive gifts, and denouncing its power to lay guilt trips on kids and make mothers feel neglected. Well, I say hooey to all that. Many of us can and do observe these holidays without spending money, taking them as opportunities to remember and sometimes to celebrate our parents and what they have meant in our lives. The trick is to try to remember to do it on other days as well, and to do it without the sense of obligation (or gifts, expensive or otherwise). But having a day a year set aside for the practice of remembering our parents, perhaps even in a poem—to me that is a good thing. In our busy lives we sometimes need to be reminded to dedicate time to what matters.

I chose this poem for Father’s Day, not for its title and certainly not for its expression of the hearts-and-flowers sentiments we have come to so loathe. What the poem expresses is unvarnished feeling, a love between father and daughter almost anti-poetic in its expression. The diction is plain, intentionally flat, and sometimes ironic. Here is a man whose alcoholism has made him anything but the Hallmark father, and here is his daughter, who unabashedly sees his flaws. And here, the great love between them that persists anyway, the kind of love we have all seen and can believe.

—Rebecca Foust, Poetry Editor

 

Father’s Day

No one answers, but I hear the TV’s drone.
I push open the door and there’s my old dad
hanging like an exhausted gymnast over the arm of the couch,
his fingers touching the floor, his pajamas on inside out.
How does he survive
the booze, the pills, the lack of food
and love? Who could love him? I love him,
but what is this? Again,
I have found him in time to take him to the hospital.
“I want to die,” he cries as I fold him into the car,
and it becomes his mantra while I drive
past the bowling alley, the gun shop.
Should I stop and buy a pistol?
“I have nothing to live for,” he says.
What can I say?
There is nothing to live for;
we make it up as we go along.
The earth didn’t have to exist,
but here it is, and here we are,
parked in the Emergency lot.
He stares fiercely out the windshield.
I touch his hand; it’s cold and scaly.
“There’s always bowling,” I joke.
“I don’t bowl,” he says.
We smile at each other.
“There’s this,” I say to my father.

 

From Buddha’s Dogs (Four Way Books, 2004), and reprinted with permission of the press. All rights reserved. First published in The Sun.

browne_4-26-15 copySusan Browne’s poetry has appeared in literary journals and anthologies, such as Ploughshares, The Sun, Subtropics, River City, The Mississippi Review, American Life in Poetry, Writer’s Almanac, and 180 More: Extraordinary Poems for Every Day. Her first book of poetry, Buddha’s Dogs (Four Way Books, 2004), was awarded the Intro Prize. Her second book of poetry, Zephyr (Steel Toe Books, 2010), won the Editor’s Prize. She also has a word/music CD with Kim Addonizio, Swearing, Smoking, Drinking, & Kissing. Susan teaches at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California.

 

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  • Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. June 21, 2015 at 5:00 pm

    Thank you Susan for this perfect expression of the imperfect that we often can’t understand until we have some distance from these kinds of relationships. Thank you Rebecca for this Father’s Day gift to all of our readers.

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