My father, for example,
who was young once
on the darkest of nights
to the porch and knocks
wildly at the door,
and if I answer
I must be prepared
for his waxy face,
for his lower lip
swollen with bitterness.
And so, for a long time,
I did not answer,
but slept fitfully
between his hours of rapping.
But finally there came the night
when I rose out of my sheets
and stumbled down the hall.
The door fell open
and I knew I was saved
and could bear him,
pathetic and hollow,
with even the least of his dreams
frozen inside him,
and the meanness gone.
And I greeted him and asked him
into the house,
and lit the lamp,
and looked into his blank eyes
in which at last
I saw what a child must love,
I saw what love might have done
had we loved in time.
from Dream Work (1986). © Mary Oliver
Brushing my teeth, he is there, in the mirror--
I am nearly his age now, the age when he died
thirty eight years ago, or was it last week?
He stares back at me, as toothpaste runs down the sink
and I wonder who he was, and what he really thought of me
before he went away, to wander among the stars
and occasionally return, when one of us has
something to say.
Now, at least, we each have the sense, and the patience, to listen.
We talk now more than when he was alive, and I feel him near
when I am doing something like him, the things he did so well.
His legacy moves now, a slight breeze in my day, but here nonetheless.
Anger rises, when I remember what he did for others, so much
but so little time for me, growing up, wanting
time with my dad, time to talk, time to know he loved me.
And, in the car now, there is silence, just like when he drove me to school
and I had so much I wanted to hear him say
but time got away, for both of us, and then, it was too late,
or so I thought at the funeral.
Almost too late, the week he was dying, but I managed to get out the words,
and so did he, just before he left.
Love, was it that hard to say?