I have previously shared a couple of poems from my friend, Gerald Long, a poet in Salt Lake City. One was “Constructs of an Unseen Fly Buzzing in the Room” and more recently, I shared “Prophecy,” which some readers found to be dark, troubling, and beautifully written. (FYI, he’s not LDS, so his works probably won’t make it into the long-awaited Especially for Mormons, Vol. 35.)
Today, with his permission, I am happy to share one of his most recent works, “Letter to My Imaginary Father,” which has strong religious overtones. It reminds us that our mortal fathers are rarely our ideal fathers, as we are rarely their ideal children, and hints at higher companionships. In fact, I see it as a surprisingly Christian poem from someone who does not consider himself Christian.
For best results, I think it should be read out loud, slowly. Maybe twice. Enjoy.
Letter to My Imaginary Father
with deep affection, for Les Kelen
Your face is gentle, your eyes like stars. I never told you this because I always thought you knew. I was always a failure as a son, father, not because I could not live up to your expectations, but because I could never match the love in your eyes, your passion for me as a son, or your face which was like a goblet of grapes, the lines and courses of which became the sad repast of joy, loss and somehow, compassion. You liked to read beneath the low glow, some book by Brodsky or some sweet leathery volume that told the story of some immigrant from some painful and therefore, triumphant, place.
I don’t know why I had to leave you, why I had to become your prodigal son, and wear the guise of another nation, or the name of another man who bound me and threw me into chains and then orphaned me into a barren wilderness. And still, when finally, I returned home, wretched and broken, you embraced me and smiled. Your eyes lit up like entire constellations and there was a celebration–and a darkness over your brow. And it cleared, as if a great storm had passed silently–like a creepy abandoned ship at sea that passes without dropping anchor– brooding over a field of desolation, not because it was empty, but because the garden was rich, the grapes were pungent with flavor and ready for harvesting and our lives were covered in this danger always–like water, like war, or rather, the rumors of war. O father with the contours of your weathered hands gripping some object of finality, a book, a plow, a gun–your hands wretched with death’s grotesque demands where one of us must bury the other, and you spend your whole life explaining it to me. The fields are harsh, of this there is no doubt, and the books you made me read even though I squirmed, were the myths of another land where fields unfold like dreams and the dark barn illuminates a sky where a storm has just past and not too much damage has occurred. As I said, I always failed you as a son, not your expectations but your dark light and the brooding pre-eminence of all that was to be–which was really what brought me home in the end.