Twenty Years Later…

30Aug10

I recall reading a poem in high school that was a brief but effective portrait of a father, and years later credited it with helping me become a writer. It isn’t the only factor, but certainly being struck by the sincerity of a poem early on doesn’t hurt. I lost track of it, but here it is, something I rediscovered last night over twenty years later. I thought it must be some obscure poet, and something I’d never find again, but it’s Alden Nowlan, and can be found in Early Poems, published by Fiddlehead Poetry Books. The details in the third section have stayed with me all these years and are, I think, the core of the poem. Here’s My Father:

My father never takes
anything for granted —
food, shelter, sleep
he is always grateful.

He lives alone now,
when he opens the pantry
he always acts amazed
that there is bacon and flour.

He eats slowly
surprised there’s enough
finishes wiping
his plate out with bread.

He is seldom happy
but I never saw a man
so content with small comforts:

wife, children gone
there is nothing left —

I know he could curl up
in his mackinaw
on his own barnfloor
and sleep thankful
at being allowed to rest there.

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