Dad’s been long in his grave.
We didn’t know each other, really.
At nineteen, I felt like a fake,
attending bedside vigils,
not knowing what to say or do.
When i got the call, I was silent.
Fifty years ago.
And now, I’m a year away
from living as long as he did.
In a bothered and quavering dream
I waited by the winter waterfall,
in a cove among dark pines.
I knew of his coming,
and kept an eye upslope
on the frozen bush road.
There were no night noises here,
and so I heard the crunch of his zip-up rubbers
just before he materialized.
It was Dad all right, with his white goatee,
dressed in an overcoat of black oilcloth
and his tweed fedora.
He was carrying things:
one of those flat aluminum saucers you had when you were a kid,
and, in the other hand, a dufflebag.
He came up to me, and set his things down.
He did not speak, but pulled out a pack of cigarettes,
lighting one for each of us.
I could not speak,
and withdrew my eyes from his.
We smoked for a minute or two.
He picked up the dufflebag
and led me by the arm down to the river.
There was a wooden bench there,
and he motioned me to sit.
Beside me he placed the bag,
then made a curious praying gesture.
Then he held up one finger,
in token that I should wait.
I watched him trudge back up the icy hill,
carrying his saucer.
A moment later, he came plummeting down the hill.
He was laughing, laughing.
My Dad was having FUN,
such as I’d never seen him do in life.
As he passed me, he was waving,
and I stood up suddenly.
He was going straight for the river.
In a second, he was gone.
I ran to the riverbank,
just as he went through the thin ice.
He was still waving, and smiled placidly,
making the OK sign as he sunk.
I knew he didn’t want to be saved,
for this was only a cartoon death.
At the end, I struggled with the meaning
as I sat down once more on the bench.
I unzipped the brown dufflebag,
and there was a mewing as I lifted out the black cat.
It was warm, and I gathered it to me,
but it wanted to look at my face.
Its eyes looked into mine and held me,
seeing more than I wanted.
Dad, I thought.
At last, the eyes relaxed,
with a seeming smile of wistful regret.
“Would you like a cigarette?”