Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Few Verses for My Father

Sadly, I've never written much inspired by my father. The truth is, I have so little to go on. The memories are few & fleeting, and the emotions are raw & rife with misplaced anger. However, there are two poems I wrote between 1994 and 1996:

Father’s Daze
Seventeen ties & handkerchiefs
wrapped in ribbon and sealed with grief
stored in the closet of my soul
where I keep my few memories of you

Seventeen homemade greeting cards
smelling of Elmer’s and growing mold
await you in the closet of my soul
where there is room for a few more memories of you

Seventeen bottles of cologne
in piles of shattered glass
pierce holes within the closet of my soul
from which leak a few memories of you

Seventeen years follow seventeen more
by which time I’ll have locked the door
to this useless closet in my soul
where I'll no longer hold memories of you


Parade

I sat
upon my father’s
shoulders as we walked
the Puerto Rican
Day Parade
along Central Park

It felt just like
our tropical
homeland, Borinquen,
in the August heat
and the endless stream
of Spanish

Except that the palms
were replaced
with Central’s massive
elms on one side
and immense iron
skyscrapers on the other

At the end
of the route my
father set me down
and joined an impromptu
orchestra

I watched
as he sat there
on the curb
feet in the gutter
his bongos between
his thighs, his Salsa
beats drowning
out the horns
behind him

I wanted to know
what it was to be
him, to share that
intensity
to strike the drum
for hours
to have hands calloused
& marbled, smeared
with blood

As the sun fell
behind the Midtown mass
I found myself
upon my father’s shoulders
again, this time headed
towards the subway and home

I felt what I know now
is pride
in my people
in my culture
in my father
But I have to wonder
how much more
the day would have meant
had I known it was the last
time I’d see him

I wonder if the imprints
I left
on his shoulders
were as deep
as the ones he left
on the backs
of my thighs

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Gone Daddy, Gone


So, in case you haven't heard, I found out yesterday that my long lost dad, the father I haven't seen since I was seven or eight, is dead. He's been dead, since 1997. Funny thing is, I half expected it. After all, my mom died in 1991, and my uncle died a few years later—both from AIDS after years of heroin abuse. Granted, from what I've always understood, my father didn't use, but it's not like I was around him often enough to know for sure. That said, according to my sister our father died of cancer, not AIDS. I suppose that's a relief, however small.

Still, as I searched for signs of my father all these years, I always clung to the hope that I would have a chance to catch up with him, to get to ask the questions that remain in my head after so many years of non-communication. Before I go on, I should make it perfectly clear that I don't blame my father for losing touch. If anything, my mother deserves a lot of the blame. It was, after all, her idea to pick us up and move us from New Jersey to Maryland in 1982 without so much as a goodbye, not just for my dad, but for all our friends—a clean break. Sometimes a clean break is very messy.

So I'm left mourning, not for a father I barely knew, but for the now-dashed hope that we would get another chance. All I have is a couple of poems (they're coming, I have to re-type them), a scant few memories, and the stories I heard from my mom so long ago that I don't remember what's true, what she made up and what I added to fill the gaps in my head. I'll share a few.

The first memory I have of my father was when I was about seven. I was hanging out with my uncle Andy, and he took me into a bar. There, he introduced me to a man he said was my dad. I recognized him because of a picture my mom kept from when she was pregnant with me—a short man (¿What else?) with a hitleresque haircut and a big, bushy mustache. He was very nice, and bought me a Coke. We chatted a bit, but I can't really recall what about. I remember that my mother invited him over for a party soon after, but her boyfriend at the time got very drunk and very jealous one night, shut off the lights, proclaiming the party to be "¡over!" My mom broke up with her boyfriend at the time, and my parents made a brief go at a relationship again, but I suppose things had changed—they had changed—too much. In the end, she got back together with John O'Connor, the man who had made an ass of himself at the party, and they married shortly thereafter.

But what happened the first time around. The story I remember, a story my mother shared frequently with her closest friends, happened in 1970. My mother met my father a couple of years after she'd had to give up my oldest brother to her mother. Apparently, after a terrible bout with heroin addiction (My older brother was born having to be detoxed.) mom had finally gotten clean, perhaps partly due to my dad's influence. They conceived me, got married, had me, and conceived my sister Kyra. All was well in the world, until the cops came bursting through the door of the apartment we all lived in.

Apparently, my mother had developed a brief, but bad history with law enforcement, and that was coming back to bite her in the ass. Although she was squeaky clean at the time, they (allegedly—but planting evidence was common in those days) planted drugs in our medicine cabinet. They had my pregnant mother in handcuffs and were about to drag her to jail, and me to foster care when my father came home. He took the rap. He claimed that the drugs were his. They took my father instead.

It should be no surprise to anyone that while my dad languished behind bars, my mother started using again. Hence, when Kyra was born, like my older brother, she had to be detoxed, too. Who knows what our lives would have been like had the police not held a personal vendetta against my mother.

But what's past is past. It's the one thing we cannot change. And there is great consolation in all this grief. Although I'm officially an orphan now, I found out I have family I never knew I had. I have three Aunts—Margie, Eva and Paula— and a slew of cousins—one of which, Marisol, I got to chat with at length. So while the much longed for reunion with dad is now gone, I do have a link to many of the stories that will help fill that gap. Even better, I have family with which I can make wonderful new memories with. If there's one thing I learned, it's more important to look forward to the fluidity of the future than to dwell on a past that's already etched in stone. RIP Papi.