A dear friend in America recently and unexpectedly lost his father. A new friend here in England is tending to his father’s health in what may be the twilight of his life. They have both been on my mind today, along with so many for whom Father’s Day is a poignant occasion. I am now nearly six thousand miles away from my own father, and from the birth- and death-place of my son.
Salamander Cove has put together a fine collection of poems related to fatherhood, and I am pleased to have my poem “Father-Son Conversation” appear in this way for the first time online. The poem opens my debut collection Human Shade, part of the Lost Horse Press New Poets Series. It appears last in this online collection. It is the only poem from a father to a child in this series (the others being addressed to fathers by children), and the editor specifically wanted to end the collection this way. I am honored for my work to have been part of this complex, subtle, and fitting tribute to one of the most important jobs a man can do.
Unexpected things happen when you release a book of poems into the world. The opening poem of the collection, “Father-Son Conversation” ends with the line: “I will go on speaking to you as long as I live.” Many people have written to me to say that they paused after reading this final line, sometimes for several days, before continuing on to the other poems in this collection. To me, that was both an unexpected and understandable response.
I have my own relationship with each of these poems. The first poem in this collection tells a lot about the purpose I have found in writing poetry. That is why I put it first. The Scottish poet Andrew Philip, who also lost his first-born son, says near the end of his poem “Lullaby,” “this is the man you fathered.” Indeed, my experience with the birth and death of our son James was an initiation into fatherhood — that I was “fathered” by him, just as one might be “knighted” by a sovereign. I came away with a charge.
But how to fulfill the charge of fatherhood without a child of one’s own? Continue reading…