On the night we met I was running away. It was mid winter. A night like a hunt. Full of tigers. What had we killed to be here?
Our eyes met across a crowded room, as they tell you they will, if you believe in that sort of thing. And so often, what you believe in ends up happening to you.
I used to live in a faux fur coat of questionable origin; wide lapels of deep cream, a swing of a thing. The outfit your ghost would wear, if you could be bothered to come back; if you hadn’t decided where to go; if you hadn’t yet remembered what you believed in, depending on how you went.
I was drinking whatever beer you could find sold for less than a dollar and locked into an argument about Beat Poets, as was the style of the time.
He was a poet, too, then. Though anything you once were you often are forever. Now I know we’re all poets at heart. I’ve met enough people and heard enough stories to know that’s true for a good hundred years. But he said he was, promised it into something greater than himself.
I’d said I was a writer once. I’d hoped to direct my life down that road, not knowing yet that life knows where it’s leading. It wasn’t as true as that I wrote. That’s the funny thing about bravery. When you say: I don’t feel very brave, but I try very hard.
Something answers back: What’s the difference?
I fell in love with him twice a day for 6 weeks. We had the same songs in us. That was enough. Until it wasn’t.
Years later, someone asked me why I thought anyone would want to talk to God. I said; because people have questions they don’t want to have to wait for life to answer.
Mabel: “Mama, when I have a bad dream and I wake up scared I think about you and that makes me feel better.”
I didn’t have an old man until a few years ago. Some tender moments of wisdom shared with fleeting father figures; with taxi drivers, in hardware stores. Everyone else’s dad always laughing at my jokes. I looked for my dad for years; in hard work, and in shame and in seeking approval. He wasn’t in any of those places. He never showed up.
Fathers day’s a weird day when you don’t have one. When you have a mother who stood up and stood in. Who raised you completely and in spite of how hard it was for your heart to blossom in the long shadow of someones absence. I fell in love with what I didn’t have. Chased that, hard. Trying to cast sparks from stones I could get no blood from. Though every day she loved me. Loyally. And every birthday there was a party and presents and a cake that looked like a pony. And I was sneaking out before the sun, checking the mailbox in secret, in shame, for word from him. Something to say, I’m happy you’re alive. I acknowledge you. But nothing came. Though I checked every hour until bed. And every year until I was an adult. I don’t check anymore.
Yesterday, on Father’s Day, my Dad picks me up for dinner. We couldn’t look more different. His accent tells a story of how far he’s traveled to be with us; how important we must be for him to do that. And we get souvlakis though they’re not the same as when he was young, in Athens. And we talk about missing home even when you’re in it; all those places you can’t return to. The geography of disaster. The importance of garlic. And we’re laughing. When we get home, to the house he shares with my mother, everything he does for her is love, love, love. From where he parks the car, to how he holds her in conversation. Every day he loves her. Loyally. He’s always thinking of her. People don’t realise how special that is, to be in someone’s thoughts. You really feel it when you’re not.
I cut my finger last week, making the lunches. Trying, trying, trying to get everything done. And last night, at nearly 31, my Dad said ‘oh, darling!’ when I showed him. And got up from the dinner table to put a plaster on the cut. To address the wound. To show me he cares that I’m hurting. And I commit this all to memory, the best way I know how. I write it down. These love letters; to myself; to you.
I’m thinking of you.
A happy Father’s Day.
Proud and privileged to again be a part of Phantom’s Poetry on Posters campaign. If your part of the world could benefit from a little love poem, let me know. I’ve posters to post you.
Viva poetry! And, as always, keep the faith.
Previous poster here.
Everyone is asleep and I am making your lunch. Buttering wholemeal sandwiches and filling them with ham and cheese and lettuce. Wrapping them in baking paper.
You stumble in, pyjama’d. You’re still warm with sleep. You eat 3 Weetbix for breakfast and drink a glass of water and we sit together in the morning sun that has swallowed the kitchen.
You get dressed in the lounge, in clothes laid out for you the night before; last night’s tomato sauce sponged off your blue jeans. You’re ready to go. I’m only pretending I’m ready.
I hold you in my arms on the front step and we take a photo. I want to commemorate the moment some other way than this; some way that other people do; covering all my bases, preparing for whoever you may become. Trying, always, to plan for all futures. You look so big in my arms we both look like children.
You call back through the gate, ‘Mama! I need a kiss!’, though you’ve had an even hundred already this morning. I have tried not to tell you to have a great day. Tried to keep my adjectives from expecting too much. Wanting you to be able to identify your own experience without it growing from some sense of my expectation. ‘I hope you learn something cool, Bubba’, I say. My cheek to yours.
Your sister insists on waving you goodbye on the street. She calls it ‘waving out’, which, like so many things she does, has a certain sense of propriety, though she’s half in pyjamas. You’re both endlessly charming. The sky is so blue.
She stands by your door and waves a big wave. You roll down your window and she clambers across the gutter in ever-bare feet to high-five you. ‘See you later, Alligator!’ you yell at each other down the street, until you are out of sight.
One day you’ll be 14, or 24, or 84, or 40. These letters are for every when, though there’s no where so real as here and now.
Here. And now…
You take run ups to come and hug me. Starting further and further away each time. I sit on my bed and you run from the couch, the kitchen, screaming with laughter.
Here’s what I know; it’s not like in the movies, but it can be better, sometimes. And you should believe some things you read; when someone else’s story resonates within you. Listen to music that makes you want to lie in the floor. Let things floor you.
Smile at yourself in the mirror. Your loveliness is all-pervading. I know. I see it every day. You’re the kind of person they write stories about. You’re the reason there’s songs. You’re the heart of the piece.
Maybe have some goals. Maybe have a 5 year plan. Try not to be a nihilist – they’re so dull at parties. Ditto, communists. Though we all have our phases. Whatever you believe in, believe in the values at its heart. Believe in the values of your own heart most of all.
Spend much more time considering whether and why you want to invest in someone, than worrying about how they are feeling about you. I wish I’d done that. Extend yourself the generosity of kindness. Don’t worry all the time. It’ll all work out. It’s a process. You’ll get there.
You’re brilliant, darling. You’re in every smile I’ve ever had. When people say, ‘that’s the spirit!’ they’re talking about you.
You’re the sun on my back.
Happy Birthday, Mabel Poppy.
All my love,
Previous birthday letters: Three