My father died yesterday in the early morning. I sat with him for about five hours the previous day while he slept, sedated, and my mother, 84, slept in a chair, her head on a folded-up towel. I took her home in the evening, and my sister sat with him for a while. Then he slipped away, probably still unconscious, in the middle of the night, with no one there. I brought my mother back, and we sat for another few hours with him, and then we said good-bye. I wrote some things in my notebook while we sat there, including this small poem. I offer it as a little valedictory, in an emotional time.
My Father's Rope
My father packed a rope into every suitcase
when he went out to all the wooden towns
after the war, offering his wares.
Each suitcase was cardboard,
like all the other suitcases
of the men offering America's wares
after the war, the necessary war.
"All those hotels were made of wood,"
he told me once, cunning and fear
I'd come to know in him at war
in his face. "The Allegheny, the old Fairfax
in Wheeling, the Dexter, pride of Fremont, Ohio.
I'd call ahead; sometimes I had to call
more than a month ahead, to book a room
that wasn't higher than the second floor.
Fire took 'em all--yeah, each single one
burned down. I'd been to war, I wasn't going to fry
on a fourth-floor ledge. I packed my rope."
Standard-issue clothesline, doubled back,
and tied at three-foot intervals with a knot
they taught him in the Navy, in the war.