I’m not a poet, but a fiction writer. I like sonnets and often wrote poems for my father’s birthday. This year he turned 85 on March 29. I sent the sonnet, which was inspired by my earliest memory. My father read poetry from his Notre Dame text books to me and my sister when I was two and a half and she was one and a half.
He didn’t remember reading Gerard Manley Hopkin’s “Pied Beauty” to his baby daughters us in our matching cribs. But the words “dappled things” have always floated through my life. When I rode my bicycle down leafy streets or played in shallow water. Fixing my hair, squinting at the sunlight.
While writing it, I realized my father and I shared an especially dappled relationship: sometimes very bright, other times quite dark. We loved each other beyond all doubt but rarely agreed. I always admired him, even when I couldn’t go along with him. I admired his faith, which I’ve lost for many years, but once felt strongly. My father went to Mass every day since he was six. As long as I lived in his house, I, too, went to Mass every day. His idea was that sinners especially needed to participated in the sacrament. Of his five children, I often looked like the most trouble, or perhaps merely troubled.
Two weeks weeks before his birthday, before I sent the sonnet, he fell and suffered a concussion. Complicating this was the titanium cage supporting his neck for fifteen years. He was having trouble with his arm, but still working, still shoveling snow and hiking. When the titanium cage was in place, the doctors discovered he had no discs between his vertebrae. He was a champion at overcoming pain. Nevertheless, over the years, he had his hips replaced and his knees. Many years earlier, he had a heart valve operation.
The concussion left him unable to swallow. His medical directive stated no IVs, fluids, or nutrients unless recovery was likely. By his birthday, it wasn’t. We had the chance to say good-bye. A dying person often has intermittent moments when of returning to oneself. Still, I doubt he followed my sonnet. As an especially rough years draws to end, with even further debasement of democracy in the offing, I take some solace in those bright moments past.
Before The Little Match Girl dies, Before The Brothers Grimm, bed time meant poems: Notre Dame inspired quatrains and sighs, Divine as prayers received at heaven's throne. And still I hear your voice, buoyant and clear, In "Pied Beauty," Glory Be, Dappled Things. Imagine, father, all we must revere, Possessing blessings true Faith brings. If infants could embrace the Holy Word, Too young to know what they can never know, How seldom then would life appear absurd. Instead, each tale untold I can't resist. Against all odds, I strive and never win. Forlorn, estranged, in truth, I will persist. If you rewind, you'll see my joy begin. Recall how often against the wind we'd run Becoming, you and I, wild boundless fun. ___________________________________ Kathleen Maher, March 29, 2016