MY FATHER TURNS SEVENTY
October 20, 1997
If the years suddenly went flat, maybe
I could look behind me, see his tall figure
striding through hotel lobbies, plush carpets,
and chandeliers, while bellmen nod hello.
The tinkle of martinis on the rocks. Sunsets
in Moscow, Singapore, the lagoon at Waikiki.
If time were strangely made to turn round
maybe the moments I keep inside would circle
back. Our bike trip on a foggy morning.
The Snake Road gravel sticking to the tires.
We couldn’t see the Sound, but we heard
the foghorn and its muffled echo moaning.
Maybe if the past were shaped into a square
I’d see what he has left along the way. He was only
thirty-five that day chunks of alder fell
from his chainsaw screaming at the woodpile.
He almost lost a finger, but just a bloody square
of thumbnail dropped with the stubborn wood.
Or if the years fell diagonally
I’d see down the middle of the X he drew across
the U.S. map and drove it. I might discover
what he was looking for in Three Forks, Lincoln,
Selma, and Key West. A man obsessed with lines
that intersect. Meriwether Lewis in a Ford.
My father finds the benchmark, the apex, where
past and present meet. Like summits reached —
Rainier, St. Helens, Baker, Hood, and Whitehorse —
he holds both journey and arrival. I think that he
suspects he also carries in his pack the pitch
of my affections. The scale, I have kept.
Now he draws in contour the shape of what’s before him:
Utter wilderness. Olympic peaks look more like him.
They wear the mantle of having been there, no less noble
for the storms or being blinded by the clouds.
What my father doesn’t know is how his imaginary lines
have marked my own map in the making,
a colored web of love.
by Christine Hemp
IMAGE: photograph of Peter Hemp