REQUIEM FOR MY FATHER

Posted: May 24, 2014 in Poetry
Tags: , , , , , , ,

David Leroy Allen WWII

David L. Allen, 1942
A Memorial Day Poem

REQUIEM FOR MY FATHER

Jeannie called and said
“David, Dad’s dead.
He fell and bumped his head.”
And inside I bled
for a man long dead
in memories
of a family
that used to be.

Jeanie was calm.
She said our Mom
was all right,
though “she just sat and stared.”
And I cried then,
but I don’t know why when
you had died ten,
twenty years ago.

You had fled
to your dark bed-tomb
and you left that crypt,
that stenched of rotting dreams
and surrender,
only for soft drinks
and to pee.

So, I called Ricky, the youngest,
and he said no tears tracked his cheeks.
“I’d been telling everyone
my Dad died years ago,” he said.

Ricky said:
“I once asked Dad what he was going to do today.
He said: Nothin’.
I said what about tomorrow?
And he said: Nothin’.
And I asked him how could he give up
after surviving World War II and alcohol?
And he said: Leave me alone.
And I told him he had to leave his room or die
And he said: Ricky, I only leave the room to pee.
And I repeated, if you don’t leave the room you’ll die.
And he said: Nobody can tell me what to do.”

Nobody could.

Mom wrote last week,
said you were doing less
and less for yourself;
that Kathy had come by to shave you;
that you and Mom were to celebrate
your 50th wedding anniversary.
She said she didn’t know how you two
had stayed together so long.

You didn’t.

‘Til death did you part.
But which death?
This final, no-breath death of today?
Or the thousand times you died since the war?

We, your children, are the products
of the half-man, half-soldier, Mom welcomed home.
The best part was left in the rubble
of a bombed-shattered wine cellar near Bastogne.
You were the sole survivor of your squad,
a heavy burden to bring back home,
a burden laid on your children.

The tag you wore around your neck
when you awoke in some hospital,
safe behind the lines said:
“This man is not responsible
for his actions.”

You never were.

You never recovered.
Booze, your best buddy,
carried you through your days —
from job to job,
child to child,
town to town.

At least we older children have memories
of a man, crippled perhaps, yet still struggling
still searching to retain some semblance of living;
pictures of a smiling man in a fireman’s dress blues
posturing before a neat Levittown bungalow.
Flash forward:
a man in shabbier clothes,
tilted cowboy hat, sad smile,
playing a mandolin in a boozy haze —
yet picking those strings,
making her sing.

But never loud nor long enough to heal the wounds.

In poverty, Mom raised us
as you struggled with your demons;
your days haunted by ghosts of what were
and could have been.
I left home first,
tasted the salt sea air of freedom
and returned to find another man
wearing my father’s clothes.

You were booze free, but hooked on pills
that still could not ease your pain.

Twenty more years passed
and you became another kind of Dad
for the younger ones.
No more booze,
no more belts across bare buttocks.
You went to AA and, for awhile, held court
at the dinner table,
telling bad jokes and drinking soda.

But your nerves were shot,
you couldn’t work,
only the pill-induced sleep stopped the demons.
So you retreated from the world,
no more morning walks for the paper,
no more evening talks at the table.

The bed tomb beckoned.

The tube flickered in the dark,
images of the world you turned your back on.

These last years
we visted Mom and brought reluctant children
into your cave to say
Hi and bye to their Pop
(I never called you that).
They cringed to see the unwashed man
with inch-long toenails,
shaggy hair,
swollen Buddah belly
glazed eyes.

My kids don’t remember much, Dad.
But I’ll try to recreate the memories.
I’ll tell them about the war hero;
the tank killer;
the high school football star;
the cartoonist;
the musician;
the man;
The slender Yankee with the toothy grin
and easygoin’ manner that
swept our Southern Mom off her feet
and into the Allens.

I’ll remember for them
the Demon-less Dad
I tell myself
was hiding there
all along.

By David Allen

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