Monday, March 10, 2008

Poetry Train Monday - 40 - When I Remember My Dad


Last year at this time, my family and I were spending as much time as possible with my dad, Norman Phillips. He was in his last few weeks of life, passing away on March 24th from kidney cancer.

Of course, he's on my mind a lot. I'd like to share this poem which I wrote 20 years ago when I had moved to Toronto, spreading my wings and finding out who I was as a newly-fledged adult. I gave it to him for Father's Day, 1988. He carried this poem around with him for years, and showed it to all of his friends. More than once, I'm sure.


When I Remember My Dad


I remember
At the silliest times

Struggling with a jar of applesauce
I remember the annoyance
When I brought you a
Similar stubborn jar
You coached me to
Open myself
Rather than prove your brawn
"What if I wasn't here?"
You'd ask
"I'd eat something else instead - "

Yet the baby patiently waiting
For her lunch
Leaves me without glib options
I strain
Fuss
Burst blood vessels
Run it under hot water
Tap it with a knife
Until the lid pops
And I feel your hand on my shoulder

The panic I felt
When I looked behind me
Expecting to see you running
With one hand on the back of my bike
Instead you were half a block away
Waving and laughing
I hopped off
And stopped
Enraged that you should trick me
It wasn't until you caught up
That I realized
I no longer needed training wheels
I was free to pedal the streets
On my own

How well you were cast
As Mom's foil
Christmas morning and Easter
You were up with us before dawn
You let us roam ahead on the rocks
The menacing sea below
I felt your trust
Heard you quiet Mom's fears
And felt your gaze keeping tabs
Through the boulders between us

I listened and watched
You taught me to
Pitch a tent
Snorkle in the sea
Change a tire
Mow the lawn
Pack a truck
Wishing I was your son
For your sake

By showing me
How to dismantle a bedframe
You freed me from the yoke
Of depending on men
Leaving me the time
To be myself
The race to find my protector
Cancelled on account of independence

When you taught me to drive
You kept your hands off the dashboard
I assumed your air of confidence
Your hand on the emergency brake
A secret safety net
You gave me room
To make mistakes
Your blood pressure remained stable
Even when I stalled in third gear
At a lunchtime rush hour intersection

How hard it must have been
To put the transmission in drive
Press the gas
One last wave out the window
Leaving me to make my way
So far from you
When I've known all along
How you wanted to cradle me
Safe against your shoulder
How that hand
Must have bled
As you pulled it back through the window


Copyright - Julia Smith - 1988

23 comments:

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Wow, Julia. That's beautiful.

I hope my kids have such nice things to say about me one day.

Jill said...

As adult, we tend to forget that it is the simplest things that kids remember of us! I love the way you show it in this poem!

Ann said...

Beautiful poem. Wonderful memories of your dad.

Dorothy said...

Stunning poem.

Shelley Munro said...

Julia - your poem is lovely. Your Dad sounds really special.

BTW - I've done my meme. :)

Annie Mac said...

A beautiful poem about your Dad. Thanks for sharing.

gautami tripathy said...

Every dad needs his daughter to write a poem like that for him. You brought tears into my eyes as I suddenly missed my dad. Thanks!

nowhereland becomes neverland

Olga said...

That was great. My dad died 16 years ago this month and I was thinking of doing a little post on him too.

Samantha Lucas said...

Awwwwww. I had really no relationship with either of my parents--something quite noticeable in most of my books lol--but this was so incredibly beautiful.

I don't do poetry, but I posted something that loosely passes for it on my author blog today, feel free to look, but for crying out loud don't compare it to yours. lol ;-)

Sniz said...

I love this poem. What a wonderful tribute to a wonderful father. The last two lines were genius.

Akelamalu said...

What a beautiful poem and fantastic tribute to your dear Dad Julia. You must miss him so much. x

lissa said...

this is so sincere and sweet. I like how you describe the moments between you and your father. he sounded like a wonderful father.

paisley said...

julia,, this was a treasure... i can rightfully see why your dad carried it with him and showed it off at every opportunity... so much love... so much devotion.. this is a keeper my dear... a real keeper.....

artpredator said...

ahh yes the hadn on the back of the bike--i love how it transitions frm the jar to the bike, holding on and letting go and knowing when to do what

Steve said...

That wss nice, that was very nice!

No Nonsense Girl said...

beautiful poem :)

Amy Ruttan said...

That's wonderful Julia.

What a great way to remember your Dad. :D

Flowerpot said...

lovely Julia. I lost my dad nearly 30 years ago but it brought back great memories. Thanks.

Red Garnier said...

Julia this is WONDERFUL!! Beautiful, it moved me so much! Hugs.

Denise Rossetti said...

Julia, This was just beautiful. How proud your Dad must have been of you. My father died when I was a baby. I have no memories of him, which is a grief.

Most of the time, it doesn't bother me, until I see my husband and my daughter together. Then I realise how fortunate my daughter is, and how fortunate you were too. God bless.

Karina said...

Wow Julia, I have chills after reading this. You know I'm a big fan of your poetry, but this one is my favorite I've read by you so far...it was just so poignant and beautiful! Really beautiful!

bleeding espresso said...

This is so very beautiful; thank you for sharing.

Kelly Boyce said...

That poem made me all teary. It was really beautiful, Julia. And I loved this:

What if I wasn't here?"
You'd ask
"I'd eat something else instead - "

So you! Your dad sounds like such a wonderful man. I wish I'd had the chance to meet him face to face, but feel I know him through all your stories.