In his final years, my father’s frame
shrunk, while his wardrobe stayed the same.
Where once his belly might have overlapped
beleaguered belt loops of his stain-dappled
pants, now he’d contracted inches enough
the waistband gapped. Shoulders of his rough
denim work shirts outsized him day-by-day,
his shoes so loose they threatened to walk away
without him. I could hardly stomach the pace
of his diminishing size; but, in truth, his face . . .
well, I couldn’t face him. That spooked look
magnified behind thick-rimmed lenses. The hook
of his nose chiseled narrow as a blade.
His mouth gaped open, quivering and afraid,
the jaw slackened till the lips rounded
the relentless oh-oh-oh of a soul astounded
by his own decline. My siblings lived nearby
and tenderly, bravely nursed him. And I
lived an insulated two day’s drive apart from the pack,
I thought, but duty or guilt brought me back.
Or was it love? I wanted to ask him but lost
the chance, though I said it anyway as I tossed
a handful of dust on his coffin. And turned to go.
And drove home slowly, knowing what I know.
Poet’s Notes: As a middle-child, I felt largely overlooked for most of my life. Middle children are prone to feeling like outsiders. I do not wish to engage in self-pity; oldest and youngest children must bear separate challenges of their own station and so do all siblings in between. Yet, I’m amused to have just written the sentence. How like a middle-child to concede his own pain as not so important, really. And what a strange place to begin this little reflection on the poem “Ghosting Home.” Why begin here?
We pay the psychologist by the hour for “the talking cure.” We sit or recline on the couch and talk, talk, talk. We reveal to the shrink what we’ve kept hidden even from our next of kin and at times we discover we’ve hidden important stuff from ourselves, too. This feels painful and good at the same time. One can only guess why this is so, but each of us in his own time has experienced this. “Feels good to have gotten that off my chest,” we say.
We’ve made a lasting and popular metaphor for our emotional-psychic troubles; we call them our “burden” and we “carry” them like “baggage.” The talking cure seems to let us abandon box loads of heavy rocks along the roadside so we can drive away into the sunset seeking even more inventive discord. (Sorry, does that sound snarky? Ask yourself this: do you know anyone on this wide wonderful planet who holds the keys to Nirvana for good and forever?)
What have we hidden from others, especially our nearest and dearest? What have we hidden from ourselves? Well, I love a good mystery and I was short on clues and plenty curious for years as to why I felt so torn apart whenever I crossed the continent to visit the home-place and try once again to connect with family.
I’m suggesting here that penning the poem “Ghosting Home” was, for me, a talking-cure. I said things in this poem I’d never before spoken and I found what I’d kept hidden from myself most of all. Sure, I’d always been an alien to my family, at least I believed it so, but I’d also become an alien to the workings of my own heart.
Editor’s Note: “Ghosting Home” was previously published in Atlanta Review, Front Range Review, and Or Maybe I Drift Off Alone.