This is a letter to my dad. He died back in 2010. Tomorrow would have been his birthday. This poem is a freewrite that I wrote two years ago and emailed to myself. I won’t include it in my No Holds Barred Poetry Writing Challenge, since I promised you guys no recycled poems. But when I read today’s prompt (a dedication to a loved one), for The Bee’s Love Is In Da Blog, this poem immediately came to mind. I hope you enjoy, and . . . try not to cry.
They spread your ashes over the
ocean at Folly Beach, SC—
your childhood safe haven
where you ran away when your
mother refused to show her love,
when your older sisters teased you
about your height,
your peasy head,
your black, ashy skin,
they could only see you at night when you smiled.
You stood in the water,
let the waves kiss your ankles,
imaged being closer to your father in Vietnam.
Did you know you were in the wrong ocean?
Is that why you moved to California after the divorce?
But Granddaddy had returned by then.
I remember the stories we told when he died—
the sugary treats he baked for us whenever we visited.
We joked that he was actually a spy
for the army posing as a chef—
that he did more than just serve the white soldiers.
The last time I saw him alive,
he took one look at my brother
and screamed his name.
He was calling you, though.
He missed you—
you only came home when he died.
I remember how we held each other at his funeral,
trembling under the weight of the tears.
The tumors in his prostate were as big as grapefruits.
How big were the ones in your lungs?
We were invited to your celebration of life service—
Mom wouldn’t let us go.
We don’t celebrate death.
I had to Google your name to find your obituary.
Her name was first in the list
of loved ones you left behind,
no mention of your first wife—
I guess we were illegitimate.
Her sons were your sons
her grandchildren were your grandchildren.
You’ll never see your true seed sprouting.
Who decided you would be cremated—
that some of your ashes would be put
into tiny urns we’d wear around our necks?
We never received those necklaces—
Mom probably sent them back.
She told me you two talked before you passed.
You said you wanted to leave your wife—
you were afraid of her.
She wanted the cremation,
influenced by her son’s conversion to Buddhism.
But you thought your soul would burn in hell—
you didn’t want your body to feel the fire too.
I saw you a month before you died—
booked the first flight to California
when Mom told me you had three months.
You didn’t look sick.
You’d shaved your head,
you wanted the full experience of having cancer
though you weren’t getting treatment—
by the time they diagnosed you, it was too late.
You seemed happy, though.
You were laughing,
dancing, drinking beer,
playing your guitar,
crooning because you couldn’t sing.
The morning I left, you were lying in bed—
the same bed, I image, you died in.
I kissed your cheek, said goodbye.
Your last words to me were
The first time you told me you were sick,
I didn’t believe you.
I thought you were lying.
I though you were making up an inconsiderate tale
to get out of paying child support.
You abandoned us, your children,
abandoned your responsibility.
I hung up on you,
didn’t talk to you for weeks.
I know why you apologized
and I don’t know why.
I don’t want to know why.
I don’t want to be the reason you died crying.