Author's Note: The optional topic this month: Father. My poetry database records some 30 poems I've written about my father, but this one is the one that matters, "My Father's Old Road," from my new chapbook (2022) Let's Hear It for the Horses, love poems for horses. I don't read this poem at poetry readings, not because it is too difficult but because it's hard to explain how mourning is complicated when a person dies in a place and time he knew to be heaven.
My Father’s Old Road
Packed in with promises of not to fight, two brothers and I on red leather seats of a 1950s Buick Wildcat convertible, headed west from Chicago every August. Ride-alongs on my father’s trip, top down under the Iowa-then-Nebraska sky sometimes heat on, windows up against cold rushing to Colorado. Always, always that top down, open sky blowing mother’s hair matted in some straw hat studded with turquoise charms and red cloth straps tied under her chin. There were many things I didn’t know – how my brothers felt sitting so close together why my father’s thinning scalp never sunburned why he lifted his chin sideways to the sun why we couldn’t sing 99 Bottles of Beer why we had to have the top down all the way to peach pie at the red brick hotel in North Platte and I still don’t know how to see time passing in a sliding sky what’s to mourn in perfect loss and why we kids stared straight up into blue when told we’d be somewhere soon. I did know my father’s fixation with old roads. My father pointed out every old road oxbow hidden in the cottonwoods. He never noted the stink of pig farms, the circling of hawks or the height of corn. Just old roads paralleling the Platte, old roads bending through Loveland Pass, rock tunnels built for prospectors mining the mountains, not our Wildcat. Then that trail to Cub Lake in Estes Park, twenty years after the first trip west. That day he went alone on horseback – his Wildcat and my mother in her ticking shirt back at the Y-Camp stable; he giddy-upped the old sorrel gelding, Lucky, saying to wranglers: It’s a day made in heaven. His was. Two backpackers found him sprawled face up in trail dust, dead under Lucky’s dangling reins, this old road where he stared his awe at a blue wide-open topless Colorado mountain sky.
Originally published in Let's Hear It for the Horses (2022)
Some little towns have titles. This one: Honey Capital of the World for sweetness bees pull from a flowering cactus. A town I never heard of. Then heard too much. Little children. Photos of their faces holding their Honors certificates. The words of grandpas. That beauty of a Madonna, a weeping mother. Little caskets. Money raised for burials one after another after another after another… it took so long to accurately count the dead. Then history of the guns. The politicians who won’t talk about guns. A candidate who points his finger. The teachers. And the grandmother. Brothers and sisters and a kid who jumped from a window who will never be the same. Some little town have titles. Names that join a catalogued list like Columbine, Oxford, Parkland, Newtown, Roseburg. So many more. Some little towns have titles: Where Children Went to School to Die.
©2022 Tricia Knoll
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