I am a transplant from Philadelphia who lives and writes in Southern California, part of a lively a thriving community of poets well represented in the pages of Verse-Virtual. These poems are among those I have written to commemorate my relationship with my father, a very complex and difficult person, who died in 2010 at age 93.
—for my father—
“Writing something is almost as hard as making a table.”
-Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Coal-heaver, caulker, yeoman, your almanac
predicted a warm spring. City-bred,
you nonetheless planted what you had
in the ready earth. Your hands
knew their place, always busy at work,
repairing the television, rewiring the lamp.
How disappointed you were to see
I was not the offspring you hoped for,
so clumsy was I and inept with every tool
except the pen, always reading and dreaming.
It’s much too late to justify my character.
Millions of years of genetic history has brought us here,
to this faulty mechanism that cannot be fixed.
In late November, when winter
winds would blow the last
brown leaves against the pane,
my father would take out his knife
and score a pound or two of dark-hulled
chestnuts for our Thanksgiving meal.
And every time, he’d tell how
in his youth, the streets and avenues
of Philadelphia—one even
named for this same tree—
were filled with green or golden
filigree. And even leafless,
branches shielded them in winter
from the strongest winds.
He told me how the nuts
would drop knee-deep in fall,
so every boy would arm himself
with pocketsful, and with a well-aimed
toss, upset squirrels in the branches
or pelt the starlings till they flew away.
The trees would wrench the cobblestones
aside and keep on growing, so straight
and tall that no one could believe
they all might disappear.
It was an alien invading spore
that brought them down,
although the roots remain, and keep on
to this day insisting, sending out
new shoots, but so far none has
managed to survive.
Everything there is
wants to continue, clings to life,
even the blight.
I’d ask him why
we bought those chestnuts
every year if, as he said,
they were so far inferior
to those he used to harvest
as a child, and he would shrug.
“Sometimes it’s just tradition
Keeping the memories alive.”
These chestnuts, mealy
and gray, sometimes bitter
as they were, gave him
a reason to recite his past.
©2015 Robbi Nester