I retired from the SUNY Buffalo English Department in 2004. Have published a dozen or so collections of poems. See more of my poems HERE.
Father and Son
Set against each other, ready to butt
and struggle, with the same glaring look
of the eye and fiercely vivid anger,
son and father, isolated together
in daily deadlock, their form of murder.
Not sacrifice: murder. For it matters
that no command has brought together
the proud and loving father, the eager son,
mercurial and defiant, his image,
or ordered the day and brushwood for the fire.
This is no test, but plainly real,
this Moriah where, unsanctioned, unblessed,
unpunished, sons and fathers pause and wait,
and nothing is revealed.
Will no miraculous ram now come
bleating, trotting, wagging his head
like a slow wisdom on an antique page,
misleading death for the future's sake
and calling back the pair in pity
of the boy's innocence, the father's love?
No ram. None. Wildly, the father casts
about the rocky field, and grapples for
imagined horns to wrestle out a ram
from nothingness, as if to drag a god
into the stunned impenetrable world
and feel the rough material horn,
the rank fur, the uncomprehending staring eye,
and behind it the startled air's commotions
where invisible hooves are bracing — while,
almost glowering, the pitiless son looks on.
Piercing the frozen scene,
is it his own? or his son's?
or an ancient cry deafening his ear?
— the shriek this faithless toiling father hears
and one moment thinks a hesitant bleat
before he mingles death with his generations
-first published in my LEAPING CLEAR, 1976; again in my NEW AND SELECTED POEMS, 1979 (both from Viking Penguin); then in my COLLECTED POEMS 1954-2004 (Schocken Books 2004)
Editor's Note: I admit that I was a bit baffled by this next poem. I confessed, and Irving gave me this fine explanation: The poem is an elegy for a departed father, written from a child's point of view. It is focused on the (unlike mothers) fundamental ambiguity of fathers: that they are intimate strangers who, moreover, like strangers, are — whether they wish it or not — to some degree dangerous. What the poem does is remove this ambiguity and danger by finding the child/boy in the man.
This stranger whose flesh we never ate,
who, rather, sat at table with us, eating,
who for our sakes clothed himself in pelts like ours
and went away far all times to everywhere until,
clambering down starways into our street,
he stood in the door, the dusk-loaf under his arm,
and unpacked the lamplight of the parlor corner
where he called us to him and told us we were his,
and lost in thought led away our little army
of mimics to parade the deep lanes of silence.
Of our mother we ate always and plentifully,
her body was ours to possess and we did so,
thoughtlessly, yes, and also in adoration.
But how shall we understand this stranger?
And how are we ever to make amends to him?
— who had the power to eat us and didn't,
who consented to abide in one house with us,
and hailed the sun down to make the dinner hour,
and bid bread to rise daily out of white dust,
peopling it with mysterious vacancies,
and new night after old washed the odd smells
from himself with sleep and forgot his strangeness
and was, one moment at dawn, little again,
hungry like us, like us waiting to be fed.
How then can we renew his acquaintance, that boy
lost in the man, this man missing in the world,
walking among all that must be inexplicable?
And how are we to thank him properly?
who salted our cheerful, selfish tongues with farewell,
and gave us his name to ponder, to pass on, to keep.
-published in ALL OF US HERE (Viking Penguin 1986) and in COLLECTED POEMS 1954-2004 (Schocken 2004)
©2015 Irving Feldman