2024 – Spring

Portrait of the Father as a Young Man

Author: Mel Riverwood

I wish I were tiny again, so you’d pick me up from my bed 
To carry me, in the middle of the night, to the car 
So we could leave to see the rest of the family
On the land where you and mum were born;
Did you know I’d wake up but never move,
To enjoy the warmth and solidness of your arms?
And then we drove all night long, so that when I’d wake up we’d be
There already; by your superpowers you brought
Me through folds of dimensions, from a world to another, half a country away.
I learned from you, and still do this today.

Back then, I did not know there was blood on the road;
Had you scrubbed it clean?
Did it hurt to hold and bend the brambles away from me and then pluck the thorns out of your palms
Was it cold on those mornings when you’d go out and bury the little birds we’d rescued
The day before, the ones you knew – but never said – we couldn’t save,
Before I would wake, so that I wouldn’t see?
Open and close the curtains of death before I could know
They had been there at all.

Where did you learn all this?
You say and know more of me in a silence, a look than mum does in a speech.

One day you’ll be gone.
I know I am lucky to have you, and I cannot begin
To dream of the moment when I’ll have to look at the photographs you took
To remember you.

So I look everywhere and try to catch all the
Tiny pieces of who you were and what you looked 
Like in reflections on the surface of the pool, and little holes in cushions, and broken corners of tables at grandma’s house.
Your childhood nickname painted in wobbly handwriting on the side of a mug.

And I try to align them, superpose them, 
Create a collage of moments 
To remember:
The story of the night you were born, when your own dad almost died
and the night you decided to build a nest box for the owls in our
woods, making sure it was wide
enough; the rainy afternoons when you used to jump on the couch because it was fun,
and the days when you carried me on your shoulders so I could
reach for the sun.

I would trust you to hold a castle of cards in your hands and not have it fall.
It’s not everyday you find a man with a soft affection for all things living;
And you taught it to me, a secret treasure passed down from you to me
Like a whispered secret. Even mum stays home 
When we go out to look for tritons and toads
To carry them to the river, across the road. 
Did you learn that you loved holding little lives in your hands
Long ago, when you were as young as I am?
You must have known it already
When you first held me.

I have come to think that we share
The same need to hold, and remember,
All the little things that others are blind to;
I remember me more when I remember you.
At your own effort and cost
You taught me what kindness was;
By making your own hands bleed, you made mine soft.
I cannot say thank you enough.

I wish I were still tiny enough 
To fit in the curve of your arms
Like I once did, as a little kid.
I know I can try all I want, but this poetry,
Will never be worth a single
Of my memories

Of you.

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