FOR MY HUSBAND ON HIS BIRTHDAY*
Ninety-two, ninety-three, I most remember
As the winter a blizzard shut us in and we are
Broke from a hard two years as newly wed
Where the meager provision of being
Student, employee, father for our first born
Son and now another one on the way, we've
Neither a degree nor cash. Dreams die in
Fatigue and bank accounts give way as you and your
Muscle and sweat and hope fall in to make
A loss. We lived in two bedrooms down the
Hallway from kind friends in their nice
Neighborhood. Or that has all really
Happened and we go to Johnson City where,
Thanks to Rick Jindra and Steve Conroy,
You get a job cleaning cars at Dependable
Auto Sales. It’s all a backwards dream, a slog
To get a life and home before the next
Arrival of another son, your dogged days
Of honor. A church acquaintance
Has encouraged us that giving when we
Don't think we have anything to give keeps the
Scarcity of our mindset overwhelmed by
The bounty. I love the mentors, at least I
Think I do, in their wisdom, their attempt
To find ways for us to find a living from the WIC
Office. Otherwise the early years seem
Like a country music ballad. A stunned
Twenty-something man runs from school to work
And home up three floors of the apartment house on Frederick Street,
Chasing a toddler with the second-born in hot
Pursuit where otherwise you sat up late writing
Required lines, planning for your next degree
And child, a daughter. We were waiting to get our
First salary and listening to the Yankees win the pennant
On the radio. You worked, you dreamed, you wrote the
Fifty-two pages of your thesis, the new baby
Arriving near the end. I slept on the couch and
healed and nursed and cried while you stayed up
Thirty-six hours straight, determined. Then that
Summer there is the day of the great Teaching Job
Offer, we move to Conklin -- Richard T. Stank
Middle School, beloved George Schuster
Down the hall. You read “Goodnight
Moon” to your children and Teddy Roosevelt
To your students, and Rick Patino for the team.
Then it’s winter again. My water breaks
And we head back to Lourde's Hospital
And we welcome another daughter, and
Sometime just about then you must have almost
Seen yourself as others see or saw you,
people like Dr. Jagger and Scott Gravelding, but could not quite
Accept either their affirmation
Or their equally anointed naming. Uncertain,
Afraid, you kept at it. A few years later
Crisis and pain and forgiveness fall in to make
A calling. You lived into yourself, a man named.
You are still the father, student, teacher, much the same,
but now also mentor, pastor, friend.
Now you are happier, I think, and older.
Those of us lucky enough to know you say
That we have won the Brian Murphy lottery.
Adapted from a poem by ROBERT CREELEY
FOR MY DAD ON FATHER'S DAY*
To pull the metal hook from the fish's mouth
my father focused all attention on his catch.
I watched his puckered face and not the fish's.
With only a few finger sweeps , he’d removed
the iron sliver I thought it'd die from.
I can’t remember the words,
but hear the speechless motion, a creak
of row lock, a slap-slap of water beside us.
And I recall his hands,
two knuckled planes, one wedding band's
glint in the sun,
a flame of benediction
he raised above my head.
Had you rowed out with us that morning
you would have thought you'd seen a man
fishing, a brown-haired girl sprawled across the bow,
book cover shielding the sun's flame.
Had you followed that boat
you would have arrived here,
where I pause at every creekbed.
Look how I search for trout, bass, bullhead
to find the ones that got away.
Watch as I scan every water field for ripples.
I was seven when my father
took me on the St. Lawrence,
and I did not fear the great steamships.
Slamming within their water wake, I did not think
Metal that will bury me,
christen our aluminum rowboat journey,
Poor Fisherman and His Daughter.
And I did not lift my face into the spray and cry,
We're going to be killed!
I did what a child does
when she’s invited into adventure. I leaned into the wind and
I trusted my father.
adapted from a poem by LI-YOUNG LEE
p.s., Dad, here's a playlist of songs that make me think of you every time I hear them - favorite albums we used to spin in your office, or later on, rewind again and again in the cassette player, and dance to the soundtrack in the living room. A few we sang in church, and a couple I can't hear without hearing your tenor voice picking out the harmonies. You'll recognize right away the tunes I can't hear without imagining your - shall we say - unique dance moves. At least one of songs, I'll always remember as the tune you I fell asleep to while you strummed the melodies on the guitar in the living room at night. There's one (still obnoxious) one you made us listen to first thing in the morning before school. I think you'll figure out which songs go with which memories alright.