The flat roads of Indiana are
Winter’s obligatory haul from
Cincinatti to Chicago.
Boredom makes you ponder choices;
Validation comes from waves of memories,
The gratitude I feel for you, Dad.

Christmas in Ohio –
Your presence was the gift;
As sad as the message was.

Driving past dried-up farms,
I see your cancer as the
Red light on our road together.

I remember our walks in L.A.,
Along the Playa Del Rey;
You removed the cloak of horror
Known as Vietnam;
I revealed my childhood,
After your divorce from mom.

As a young man you fought in a war
You didn’t control;
As a kid, I hid in my bedroom,
Trying to unhear adult stories of
Anguish I couldn’t understand.

Don’t feel guilty, Dad.
Mom’s decisions after you two split
Weren’t your fault.

You see, I’m a grown woman now.
I have a son I raise on my own.

Working at the shelter,
I’ve seen how men leave their women
When there’s a kid on the way,
The job doesn’t go right,
Or when drugs replace the feeling of satisfaction
That comes from taking responsibility;
Wounded children all of them.

Their lives make me realize:
You’ve stood up.

Driving west with old songs on the radio,
My two-year-old sleeping in the back,
I think of your prognosis as I grieve –
Mom’s third husband just died;
He was a good guy.
I have to put the dog down.

When do I get to mourn,
Process the feelings,
Generate the energy to
Take care of you?

To be passive now,
To anticipate the tears at your funeral,
Wondering if you know I miss you,
Is not the direction I’ll take.

How do I make sure
You know I love you?
To make these last years count?

Our waves are in different places now—
You’re on the Gulf of Mexico,
I live in the city by the lake.
Our waters don’t intersect.

But new memories could take flight,
Join each other somewhere up there,
If we promise to talk more often,
If you hear your grandson
Giggle on the phone.

If we talk a few times a week
The future might be a little less bleak;
It might float on more gently
When you’re gone.

This is the second in a three-part series of poems based on interviews with women willing to share their stories of grief and loss. African Princess is the first poem in the series.

Image credit: Sally Ann O’Dowd.


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