Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Time for Carving

A Pact

I make a pact with you, Walt Whitman --
I have detested you long enough.
I come to you as a grown child
who has had a pig-headed father;
I am old enough now to make friends.
It was you that broke the new wood
now is a time for carving.
We have one sap and one root --
let there be commerce between us.

(Ezra Pound, Personae, 1926; from the Poetry Speaks desk calendar)

My father would have been 68 this week. As I continue to refine and resubmit (and refine and resubmit and refine and resubmit) my first manuscript, a collection of poems spoken from me to my children, I can't help from time to time being reminded of my relationship with my own father. I think our trajectory was fairly typical: From me wanting to be him, to me wanting to be anything but him, to me slowly realizing that I had become him. This poem, coincidentally appearing yesterday in the Poetry Speaks calendar, carries the same feeling that I recall having when I realized that Dad was the person in the world I was most like - however we'd come to be that way.

Our differences were fairly obvious. He never really thought much of my poetry hobby, he enjoyed hearing my play my accordion when I was competing but I don't know that he was all that interested when I stopped, he was pleased at my success as an engineer - but I think that was largely because he always regretted not becoming one himself. On the other hand, there were similarities that emerged unprompted in my adulthood, ranging from the silly similarities in our bowling styles to our shared ability to predict very early in the hand the one card that would sink our opponent in a game of pinochle. There were a couple of defining moments in our relationship as adults, and I realized at some point that we had become friends.

One of the ways that we were most similar was a (healthy) preoccupation with family and legacy, with planning and providing for the generation that would follow us. This, with its dialects of finance and probability, of complex decisions reduced to the objectivity of mathematics, was channel of communication that was always open for us, and frequently as good as a private Esperanto, as we went back and forth with terms - linguistic and statistical - that only we, among everyone in the room/house/family, really understood.

This is a very old poem; I penned it more than 15 years ago. I was tempted to neaten it up, to apply the style I've developed in those intervening years (repair those enjambments!), but I don't think that would be true to the memory of my father on his birthday. This is something we had. It was uniquely ours. It served us well at that time, and I choose to remember it today as it was, to remember the sap and root we shared, the (quite literal) commerce between us.

Sorry, this poem has been deleted.....

There will be time for carving soon enough. Happy Birthday, Dad.

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