A Father's Day Sampler of poetry by men of the NOMC:
On the Death of My Dad - an anthology of scattered feelings
by Earl Vicknair
Hospital rooms suck.
My Mom can stay forever.
You have a smile and I decide to take a break with that smile embedded in my mind.
The parking lot is the best refuge.
It offers solitude.
Trees growing, birds flying.
Nature is comforting.
A pigeon is flying low.
He lands on top of a car.
Something is wrong.
He is hurting.
His wings flutter and he lands on the hot pavement.
Nothing can be done.
I want to help.
A futile thought.
A car speeds past him.
He wasn't crushed.
He continues his struggle.
I cannot look anymore.
I sit on a curb.
The shade and breeze give relief from the sun.
An ant is crawling on my leg.
I smash it with my finger and feel remorse.
Harold would not have approved.
An update... on a subsequent trip to the parking lot, I saw the pigeon again.
He was dead.
Is this the last minute?
TTD is the term.
Not many people know what it means.
Time till death.
The doctor says weeks or months.
As I write, you say something.
I go to your side.
You say,"I'm not going to make it."
You say to Mom, " I love you, Earl and Wayne."
Tears flow freely.
The doctor talked to me privately.
She will talk to my Mom and Dad about DNR - do not recessitate.
I know my Dad.
He will choose that option.
The weeks and months have become hours and days.
Soon to become minutes and seconds.
I don't want you to die and leave me.
I want you to feel the warmth of the sun.
Hear the birds.
The truth is that you struggle for breath.
I realize I have one more thing to tell you.
"I am proud to be your son."
You and Waggles
Waggles was my only son.
I remember his eyes saying, "Daddy help me."
I was too late.
Your eyes are different.
They are sparkling.
You want a malt.
With real ice cream.
We both know you can't have that.
You say, "I'm going to die. Why not get me what I want."
And you say it with a smile.
I'll tell the nurse, but you will get your malt.
Part of me knows you will see Waggles soon.
Another part of me doesn't believe that.
I want you to be with him.
I have never seen you laugh that hard.
The Last Room
You have been moved to another hospital room.
This will be the last one.
You told the doctor no more dialysis treatments.
And no more medication.
The Reaper had you in his sights.
You decided that your death will be on your own timetable, not his.
Some people just don't get it.
You made the decision to hasten your death.
In years gone by, you would have tried to convince them otherwise.
You have come a long way.
Others say, " I cannot imagine what he is going through."
And you are the only one who truly knows that.
Yet you have told your loved ones.
And they listen.
They want to hear every word you speak.
Twenty four years ago, your doctor gave you five years to live.
You amazed them all.
But you never gave up.
It is the way you lived your life.
Now you have decided to end the suffering.
Not many know you did it for your family.
A big clock on the wall.
You used to stare at it.
Men in Caves
by Rik B
Some men go into caves
It's a sacred place, a sacred palace
Strong healthy masculinity permeates the calm still air
In the smoke from burning sage and the shaman's wares
Our shadows dance joyously by fire-light
While we sit in stoic repose, legs folded, hands on our knees,
Staring straight ahead into the flickering fire and boiling coals
In small groups of eight or ten we gather in caves
We wear hand-made leather boots, dear skin loin clothes, a medicine bag,
Or maybe a bone fastened with horse hair around our necks,
As a reminder of a special day, a tribute to our god, or a love lost long ago.
Some of us wear a bearskin robes, and stand 10ft tall by the end of the night.
Our faces distort by the shadowy light of flame and preemptive wildness emerges
We delve into the deep black darkness of caves, and the hidden corners of our souls
We grow hair on our faces, throw away our watches, ties, and combs
Our wind tunnel tested GQ hair-do gets long matted and dready
Some smear mud on their chest, belly, and face
To commune with the warm comfort of mother earth's womb
We paint war totems on the wall as provisions to battle the haunts of our wounded psyche
We get bone needle tattoos, and piercings with eagle talons to bleed out the grief that
we aren't allowed to feel in more crisp shinny places of refinement and 'culture'.
The safety of the cave is treacherous to small men like sergeant dad
Men who shame small boys by saying, "Aw, stop crying you sound like a little girl!"
And "Can't you do anything right!!"
Oh, and let's not forget, SUCK IT UP!! DON'T BE A PUSSY!!
They're welcome, and we'd honor their courage if they'd dare enter
And feast in facing of their fears.
But women - women are not allowed at all.
We can't risk the subtle emotional terrorism of "Aw, be a BIG boy, and make momma proud - don't cry."
In the quiet of the cave
I stare into the eyes of god, and sometimes gnash my teeth in disgust
At the horrors in the lives of little children - also at some of my own
There's the musty smell of dirt,
Moist damp decaying leaves where small blind creatures scamper
I'm careful not to step on them, or smash them as I roll over in my sleep
And when I awake, I sometimes eat one with the boiled roots I garnered the day before
And thank that same god for providing me with what I need to survive
And from the outskirts of the forest, one can hear in the hollow night air
the howls of anguish, rage, and despair echoing out from the cave as we exhume,
and make peace with our parents, institutions, and abusive societal constructs that once
robbed us of our innocent boyish nature
You can also hear us laugh like burly giants at the stories we tell each other about
easier childhood times of games, insect collections, and the first time we kissed a girl
And all will go quiet for long moments, as a man reads a poem called God
Where he talks about his dog from childhood
His first true experience of unconditional love
In caves, we drum
Focused, meditative, entranced
Sweat dripping down my back... furrowed brow
Sporadically interjecting primal grunts
And harmonic low tone chants
We drum, and jump, and flail our arms, and swing our heads in unison with the rhythm of the pounding
The pace naturally quickens, eyes dilated, adrenaline coursing, and something powerful rises from within
It's the courage to face myself, be myself, be by myself if need be
And know, from a deep calm still water center that I am a man
And I am good enough
By Ed Tedrow
(A reflection on the NOMC Fall 2002 Retreat)
From an old myth an old man
in faded jeans and fiery shirt opened
the boy's head mercifully as if removing
the cork from an old bottle of wine and removed
the brain before the boy even knew it was his.
The old man lowered the brain into the tub and set
the machine on gentle cycle. After the spin
the old man placed the brain in the boy's hands
and said this is yours. The boy was grateful.
He in his vacant stare saw a pretty good brain.
He carefully placed it in his head and screwed it
in place the best he could. The old man watched
from his old myth but didn't help the dizzy boy.
When the old man from an old myth
leaned in close to inspect, the boy thought
he would suffocate in the blur of folds of the fiery shirt.
The boy could see nothing. From the heat of the man
the boy began to sweat and in darkness he thought
he saw his grandfathers. He saw strands from the shirt
tied to his dreams like balloons. And like balloons
the old dreams popped. He needed new dreams.
The old man left but the boy still couldn't see. He needed
a new myth, a new man, and asked his brother
what do you see for me? His brother gave him a sentence
or two hoping it would help the boy. The boy opened
his eyes and saw his brother and in his brother's
eyes saw a tiny reflection of himself.
While it was an image that he had not seen before,
it was the clearest image of himself he'd yet seen.
He patted his sweat with his bandana and with it doused
the old man's fire and cleaned his lodge.
Using the sun and his brother's lens
he lit his new myth on the old man's shirt.
Love and Grief
By Ed Tedrow (NOMC)
Memories of 2003 NOMC Spring Retreat
He turned the wheel of the car
and he is gone. It could have been
any one of us and each of us knew
we'd been incredibly lucky
maneuvering those massive
internal combustion engines.
He is gone. Mine are gone.
Love and grief.
A baby is born. A father is born.
A grandchild is sick.
A grandfather is sick.
My grandchild is distant
I am distant. I am sick.
My heart is full.
Love and grief.
I know some boys
who want to play
cards, volleyball, shadow play,
winnebago dice, a dirt road run.
When father and his baggage
weigh down your shoulders
play is seldom fun and losing
never is. For those learning
to handle new baggage, play
is not yet rediscovered.
I play for joy and I miss that boy.
My heart is full.
Love and grief.
Remembering My Father
By Jim O'Neill
Seven years later: funny what I remember;
his hands and fingers, the tremor when he wrote,
his signature, shaky but still the same,
the flourish of the E, the repetitive ovals at the end.
The scent of the man, the intelligence in the eyes,
his fairness and integrity, no point made, just there.
His anger at the politicians and crooks, his laughter
reading Truman's caustic assessment of Nixon:
"The only man he knew who could talk out of both sides
of his mouth and lie out of both at the same time".
The stories about St. Louis, his mother, his brother,
the early days and the silence about his father.
Dad provided well for his wife and children,
never knew him to complain about that.
I wanted more for him and from him.
I wanted him to use his love and skill with literature,
but he was content to see his children well educated.
I wanted more demonstrative expressions of love,
but his way was quiet, more in actions than words.
I wish he were here today, not gone to ashes;
his cigarette habit cutting short his days.
He is here today, in his family, in my heart.
Here when I remember him with love.
James Henry O'Neill
(Second son of Eugene J. O'Neill, 4/26/1914-8/26/1987)
By Jim O'Neill
We have lost our connective tissue,
the bonding that holds our humanity together.
Seeking to honor the individual,
We have fashioned an idol,
And the idol demands its sacrifices and servitude,
Those who will not serve are the enemy.
We must, of course, destroy the enemy;
It is justified to take from the threatening stranger.
The slippery, wary glance replaces the full-faced eye contact of the soul,
The handshake is displaced by the hand gun.
The bars on the windows
Imprison as they exclude.
And the alarms, the damn alarms
Warn that the enemy is near.
We have learned to ignore them,
We set them off ourselves.
Is it just too hard to live
In constant vigilance?
Or are we signaling that
We, too, are the enemy?
Mother earth weeps,
She cries out to her children
As they flail and rip at her bosom;
Smear their blood in her face.
Mother earth weeps,
Her arms wide open
In welcoming embrace,
She is raped by her sons
Despised by her daughters
Where is the father?
Asleep on the sofa,
After the game
And the beer.
Mother cannot connect
What father will not protect.
The fathers have stood by
As their sons steal from mother earth.
The greedy smile between their teeth
The hand behind their backs,
Gets their cut.
The son, when he was young,
Had asked many questions:
"If exhaust smoke kills,
What does it do to the air?
If oil comes from the earth,
Won't we run out
And how will be put it back?"
He was curious too
About where the sewerage goes,
And what happens to the garbage.
But the father assured him
There was nothing to worry about;
Men take care of those things.
The women looked up and their eyes asked:
"Men do take care of those things,
Now we men know that we lie,
Like we have been lied to.
We have betrayed mother earth
And defiled ourselves.
We have broken the sacred trust,
And we wonder
Why there is no respect
In our cities,
On our streets,
Inside our homes.
A man who does not know mother,
And has not spoken with his father,
Will not recognize his brothers and sisters;
Mistaking them for enemies.
Could it be that soul speaks
Through all the fears,
From behind the bars,
Over the sounds of alarms and guns:
?tu es mi hermano? (You are my brother)?
Knowing we are brothers and sisters
Does not solve it all.
It just means we're in this together
And together we must find a way
Or there will be no way.
The murder count today in our city,
The 287th day of the year,
James H. O'Neill
October, 14, 1993
Dad and the Mercury
By Jim O'Neill
I was 14 years old when I won a car in a raffle:
A brand new big white Buick, with red interior.
It was Palm Sunday morning when I got the call,
What a thrill for a freshman in high school.
I remember sitting in the driveway behind the wheel,
Then reality hit, I didn't have my license yet,
And our family sure could use the money.
We sold that car to pay for tuition for us boys.
I didn't think twice about it then, sure, that was best,
But I can still see that Buick in our driveway.
Two years later Dad said to come along
It was time to buy another family car.
To my surprise, he let me choose, no questions asked.
I picked a beautiful black and white Mercury two door coupe
(I know now four doors are better for a family of seven)
Red interior, push button drive, and it was fast!
Dad smiled, in fact, I think he liked it too.
I didn't really get it then, but now I understand.
It was like my father to care enough to not forget my gift.
Now Dad is gone and of course the Mercury too,
But from this memory I keep and carry close to my heart
I am learning his kind of careful remembering.
New Orleans Men's Conference, Camp Abbey
February 28, 1998
By Jim O'Neill
When we visited his childhood home,
He told me he saw again that little boy
Looking out of the upstairs window,
His mother behind, with her arms around him.
He pointed to the neighbor's attic across the alley.
There a man had spent his spare time building a boat
For a trip my father might have wanted to take
With a man, with his father.
Where was his father?
"Oh," says my uncle, "he was the life of the party,
down the street with the boys.
He liked to drink, the bathtub brew
And it made him swell up;
Dropsy they called it then."
He died at 35 and left his son,
Alone again, fatherless at 14
With his mother, grandmother, brother to take care of.
I can see him in that upstairs window,
Looking for his father,
The father that didn't come home.
Where was my father?
He drank some too, but not like his father.
No, he worked, worked hard and came home,
But often he wasn't really home.
I'm not sure where he was,
Maybe still in that window with his mother,
Looking for, waiting for, his father.
I became my mother's son
And made my place in my mother's home
Where she was looking for her father,
Said I looked a lot like him.
Dressed in my First Communion whites
With my mother and my grandmothers,
Having communion with mother church.
My father? He was away at work a lot.
So I learned to work,
But work is not home.
Without a father home,
A boy looks in vain.
He sees out of his mother's window,
Not his father's; he does not know his father's.
He grows up, he comes home to his woman,
But it is her home and he is never content;
He has not found the father home.
The young men gather in the street
Looking for the father home.
They will kill to find the father home.
They will die without the father home.
They will fight for the fatherland,
Never knowing what they are fighting for,
They need the father home.
Looking out of mother's window
Listening for the sound of distant drumming;
Is it my father's drum?
What was his beat and his rhythm?
Why was his drum so silent?
Lost in work, drink and smoke.
Angry, bitter, and admit it, abandoned;
Too long waiting at the window,
Knowing he is not coming home.
Home is men talking about
What silent shame and macho vow forbid.
Home is men gathering for something
Other than smoke, drink, work,
And the games good ole boys play.
Home is learning the sound of my own drum
And feeling in my body the beat
Of my brothers' drumming.
Home is sharing the stories,
And then, the forbidden,
The fears and tears.
Together we find him,
And if we dare,
We bring the father home.
Oh, Danny Boy, Ich Liebe Dich
by Dan O'Neill
Half-German he was, and a quarter French,
Not Irish by half, yet named O'Neill.
Eugene, like the playwright, though born before
That Broadway Mick his fame would steal.
"Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes
From glen to glen are call-all-ing.
From mountainside, too, summer's gone,
And all the roses fall-all-ing."
He married a girl with wild red hair
As red as an Irish lass's kin,
Though German she was as well and through,
A good girl, Catholic like him.
"Oh Danny boy, it's you must leave
And I must bide in this meadow.
But come ye back when summer's here,
Or valley's hushed and white with snow."
Four boys they had and then a girl.
Like decades of a rosary:
A Tom, a Jim, a John, and Dan
And sure, the girl was named Mary.
"It's I'll be here in sun or shade,
Oh Danny boy, I love you so."
[Words German fathers never said,
The Irish in me wants to know.]
On Saturdays at lunch I'd sit
And listen as he'd share the world
From all the books he'd read each week
And trains of passengers transferred.
"But when ye come, oh Danny boy,
And all the flow'rs are die-hie-ing,
If I be dead, as well may be,
Ye'll find where I am ly-ing."
And when each boy became a man
It made him proud to see them so.
And Mary, smart and pretty, too.
'Twas not so hard, him then to go.
"Sure and ye kneel and bending say
An Ave there for me, it's ye
I'll hear, though e'er so soft ye pray,
And warm ye tread abo-ove me."
"Just wait'n for Gabriel to blow his horn"
He'd teased for more than twenty years.
"One foot in the grave and one on a peel"
So when he'd go there'd be less tears.
For tears was what we seldom saw
Though every ache of ours was his.
And praise was spare, as not to tempt
High heaven with a wanton kiss.
"Ye'll tell me that you lo-ove me
Oh Danny boy, I know ye will.
Stay safe, and do not rush ye here,
For sleep I will in peace until."
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