A well-known poet was doing a reading in New Hampshire. He started to read a poem about his father. After about three lines, he stopped and looked up at us: “After all these years,” he said, “you’d think I would have this figured out.” But of course you don’t.
My Father’s Toolbox
My father was not much at fixing things
But he had a tool box,
The colour of an Army Jeep,
Marvellous nest of compartments,
Secret places for wrenches and chisels,
Trays for bolts, screws,
Nails of different size.
It still sits in the guest-room closet,
Artifact of wonder
To a childhood on the pond,
Seventy summers ago.
I do not have a toolbox
And few tools, beyond those:
A plastic container with
A screwdriver, the little hammer
My great-aunt used
To pound away at pewter.
And a heavy-duty staple gun,
Mightiest instrument I ever used.
We did not have sons.
Our daughters learned
To repair some things
And married men
Who could fix others.
I came upon my father’s gradebook today,
On the cottage shelf
Where we left it when he died,
Twenty years ago now.
I wish that he’d retired
While his memories were all good ones.
I see him in his classroom by the pond,
Leaning forward, wanting to tell a boy or two,
Sullen, not unkind, needing credits,
About the Generation of ’98,
But struggling with the preterite, I think.
Then the meaning comes to me:
A tutor is someone who keeps you safe.
Third Sunday in June
Of the Father’s Days
In my growing up
And 45’s that turned out
Not to be the Dixieland he loved;
Yet his smile showed thanks for my intent.
So it did not seem such irony
That the week before Father’s Day this year
We took him to the “rest home,”
(Curious euphemism, that):
Meaning well enough, I suppose:
They cannot tell us a theology of Alzheimer’s.
Early on Sunday morning,
They took him to the emergency room;
Four days later,
Shortly after lunch,
With Mother and me there with him,
He dozed off into eternity,
Slipped loose at last
From that most outrageous of diseases.
I had few tears left for
The funeral home, the cemetery.
I left them all at Elmhurst,
In his little room, his chair,
In the grand confusion
Of the end of his days,
Left there by those who cared for him most.
The monitor above his bed
A shrill, dull monotone,
Solid amber line across the screen;
On the shelf below, greeting cards
From cousins he could not have named
And an unopened bottle of Williams Aqua Velva.
Robert Demaree is the author of four book-length collections of poems, including Other Ladders published in 2017 by Beech River Books. His poems have received first place in competitions sponsored by the Poetry Society of New Hampshire and the Burlington Writers Club. He is a retired school administrator with ties to North Carolina, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. Bob’s poems have appeared in over 150 periodicals including Cold Mountain Review and Louisville Review.