I enjoy this poem for its mounting absurdities: that a stranger might have all of this to say at a funeral, the forgotten words of a tattoo, since removed, the fearlessness in the helicopter, contrasted against the terror of the staircase summit. Stories are complicated, and deserve to be heard.
For His Son
By Thea Engst
When it occurred to me that he would die
I thought about being at his funeral,
meeting you, the son he never left,
but wasn’t there for, either. I want to tell you I knew
how well your father knew himself and maybe
he wasn’t the kind of person he wanted around
his only son. I used to sit at the bar till three
after my shifts to talk to him about childhood
and Vietnam, to discover what made him drink double
espressos at midnight. Ever heard the song, “Mama Tried?”
he asked once, and told me about Episcopalian Church
on Sundays, how he hated it, but my mother tried.
He pulled up his sleeve to show where a homemade tattoo
used to be. One of the first laser removals in the world!
But he couldn’t remember what the words had said.
At twenty he was in France on a motorcycle
when it broke, his friends went on, but he stayed back,
called his mother to check in and was told he’d been drafted.
He said his best advice for a long life was staying away
from dark roads in France. Your father worked reconnaissance,
he could disappear beneath humidity in jungles,
live off of snakes and water. I spent a lot of time in the door
of a helicopter. In the moment, I wouldn’t say I was afraid.
Now, I hate tall stairs, can’t look down when I’m walking
them. Roofs -- windows, give me the creeps.
You should know your father
had stories he could only tell a stranger.