Michael L. Newell
I am a retired secondary school English/Theatre teacher. I have spent one third of my life as an expatriate (13 countries on five continents). I now live on the Oregon coast.
Trying to Make Sense of It
(in memoriam, Nehemiah "Pungo" Newell)
The last time I saw my father, he
was days from dying of prostate cancer
on a Sunday morning (his wedding
anniversary), was heavily drugged
to avoid excruciating pain,
and so deaf he only could hear
words yelled in his ear. As I prepared
to leave and return to Riyadh to face
classes which seemed irrelevant,
meaningless, futile, my mother informed
my father, "Michael is leaving now,"
and pointed to where I was standing.
He extended his arms to embrace one
last time, said, "You've been a good son;
I love you," and squeezed me tightly
as his frail, diminished, thin
arms could manage, kissed my cheek,
patted my shoulder, sketched a smile. Afraid
to hug him with any strength, for fear
he would shatter, a strange thought which
made sense at the time, I whispered goodbye.
Back in Riyadh, the first message received
from family said, "Landing flaps down."
It was Easter morning. I could not cry.
All day at work, I kept asking people to repeat
what they'd said. Three times I saw him
walking down a hall or across the quadrangle.
One class was studying Hamlet; another
was reading Death of a Salesman. Ah,
the irony. To this day, I believe I should've said
or done more as I left, been more demonstrative,
uttered eloquent words, summed up a lifetime
of knowing one another with language or touch,
assured him his place in my life had been significant,
central, defining. I was silent. I was afraid. I felt
a stranger to this ghost reaching out to reassure me.
I still feel his frail bones, hear his kind words,
remember his loving, spectral touch, my silence.
On my refrigerator is a picture of him and my mother,
smiling into the future and the raising of family,
faces unlined, no gray in hair, a fearless acceptance
in eyes for what might come. My mind adjusts,
recalls boyhood and the two people in the photo,
decades wiped away, the long journey just begun
which would end in a trailer with him in great pain
held in my mother's and brother's arms, while I returned
to a job as a surrogate parent for rich people's children
in a foreign land. I would seek forgiveness, if I knew
from whom and for what. When I look at the photo,
I hear whispers whose words I can not quite distinguish.
I imagine movement and think someone is about to walk
into the picture, a brother, a sister, me, and realize
I am still alone, still silent, still draped in confusion,
unable to reach through time, and seek a blessing.
©2016 Michael L. Newell
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