Friday, March 8, 2013

Michael P. Bobbitt: Dirge for my Father

A Dirge for My Father

In a few months my father will be dead.
He’s withering in a little room of my big house
Growing thinner by the day
The edge of his sharp mind
Dulled by a legion of tumors
Tearing at his synaptic connections and neural circuits
Chewing away the meat in his head
That through the mysticism of humanity
Makes us something more than monkeys.

He was something more than most of us.
157 times 34
Faster than you and I can open the calculator on our smartphones:
Fifty three thirty eight he says with a sly grin
Under the Tom Selleck mustache
That held its ground long after the hair on his head
Gave up the fight against the chemo
Out of place but stoic
A whiskery reminder of the maverick he was in the full of life.

The 100 foot high bridge over the Mississippi River he leapt from as a teenager--
Laughing when the impact busted an eardrum--
Seems ten lifetimes away from the death song
Whose building chorus
Is drowning out his cartoonishly thick Arkansas drawl
He fights against its grim refrain
With radiation treatments and bags of poison cycling through his veins
But the coda is written in ink
From the reaper’s own hand
And only a little background music remains.

He was at times a truck driver
A master carpenter
A hillbilly drug dealer kingpin
A failed bank robber
A stand-up comedian
A lover of women
A fire and brimstone preacher in a country church by a railroad track
A menagerie of characters, really
All played with conviction, grace
And uncommon generosity.

He learned to be a dad
Too late for my eight-year-old self
But not too late for redemption
Soon enough to teach me about kindness
And sacrifice
Soon enough that his grandson
Thrives in the light of love from us both.

The morphine makes it so that
He doesn’t get my jokes anymore
The idea of fishing together again
Seems impossible
And my young son’s fun memories of him
Are being overwritten by these grotesque final scenes:
The Marlboro Man faltering
Going down swinging, yes,
But outmatched by this final opponent
Landing one crushing blow after another
First to his head
Then his liver,
Kidneys, spine and finally all the way into his bones.

He never understood my poetry
But he loved that I wrote it
Called the place I went to read it
“the dirty-feet show”
He would go there with me
And smile at all the hippies
Shake hands with everyone and
Make them feel like it was the highest honor of his life
To be in their company.

In the end, that will be his legacy—
A life lived in support of others
A genius not wasted by underachievement
Because he coasts into the afterlife flat broke
With a seventh-and-a-half grade education.
We are all racing back toward the cosmos
All beginning soon again in the vast ether.

But on my journey
And on my son’s journey
And on the journey of all those loved by this silly, remarkable man—
The road is a little less difficult
Paved with the joy of his example.

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