On Tuesday night, 17 of us gathered at Bryan Uecker’s Book Nook and Java Shop in Montague, Michigan. Go there. You will enter the world as it should be: fine food, fine drinks, music, fascinating art objects, books of course, and overstuffed chairs, calming lighting, and such welcoming warmth.
This is a gift from Bryan to all those who hope to find a place where the soul finds respite.
We gathered for a workshop in which I try to offer a variety of approaches to writing that explores one’s personal history, the history that matters, the history that one is seldom encouraged to discover. There is memory, the wellspring of much of our lives. As Joy Harjo has so quietly said, “Memory alive. That’s what we are.” And there is memory that becomes a record of our history, meaning those experiences and those people who have had an impact on who we are.
During our evening a troubling discussion arose about how, all but daily, 45 by his coarse and caustic language distracts these writers from what deeply matters to them. Two and a half hours later, we left feeling re-connected to our own worlds, regretting that we needed a workshop to have this happen, and with hope that we can attend to political events that matter and somehow keep 45 from tearing us away from what creates the personal meaning in our days.
I Am Wearing Your Shirt
an elegy for my father
When your words left
your hands, the only place
silence holds us to the earth
opened. Somewhere a child
opened a door. Somewhere
a mother looked out a window.
You lived in your hands—alive
in bread dough, along the handles
of tools, holding the endless
usefulness of rags. “In all
things, a firm grip,” you told me,
and at the end, you wanted only
The snow that comes in the mornings
brings each of your words. The water
forms around your and, your either, not
and yes. They land, they just land.
Sometimes they fall all day, and into
the next. Sometimes they melt before noon.
You never waited. In the Spring,
you forced the shoots, even
the blooms. The trays waited
on the coffee table, the refrigerator,
the floor of the family room. We gave
one to anyone who stopped. They
were gone by May.
Yesterday, I found a photograph. I’m
sitting on your shoulders. Or is it you
sitting on your father’s shoulders? Or
is it your grandfather sitting
on his beer wagon, holding
his team of tired horses?
At the funeral, you walked through the house
collecting your garden tools, cookbooks, and
sweatshirts while each visitor laid the bud
of a rose on your chest. They formed a heart
within the heart of your arms and folded hands.
I imagine them opening in your ashes.
Every morning for fifty-one years, you
woke and began by whispering, “This
is the best part of the day,” and laid
your arm across her back.
I am wearing your shirt. Now,
when I walk, I wear your hat. In
the garden, I wear your gloves.
Here the land is flat. You
lived in the clay hills,
always at an angle.
Growing up on Goat Shit Hill,
looking out over the sullen
open hearths, the tired smoke
of the mills, the smudged strip
of heartless coal, you took shot
after shot at the hoop your father
rammed into the ridge behind
your house, knowing any miss
could send you down a mile
after the disrespected ball.
The house is cold now, cold
as Spring turning itself
into bloom. We wait at the window.
You always stepped aside
to let every question have its way.
Your God wanted no attention at all.
Yesterday, when I dug into our garden’s
matted earth, I felt your hand slide
into mine as if it were putting on
a glove. We went together
into the awkward ground, turned the soil,
let it slip between our fingers.
Where have you walked
in a year? The center
of snow. . . The center of
each amen. . . of every
word we’ve tried to keep.
Now, on this still April afternoon,
one more year to the day you
came to stay within us, the trees’
negative space waits for leaves.
And wearing your shirt, I look out into
the wood, where the end of each branch
touches the air’s one silence.
How you loved this dust, this
light on the side of the house.
First published in the New Poems from the Third Coast, Contemporary Michigan Poetry (Wayne State University Press)
Subsequently published in Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press)
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