My father left his body on February 17, and I keep asking myself, “Was it five years ago? I think it was five years ago.” I was standing in the North Palm Beach Library behind the circulation desk when I got the call.
Here’s a poem I wrote beforehand, called “When I Miss You, I Look in the Mirror.”
Love you, Dad.
Someone I barely know listened and smiled
when I told him about you. I explained the accident,
the tubes, the machines, the way I wasn’t sure if
you could see me. I thought of how your blue eyes
stared at nothing, then blinked and looked at me.
And in those eyes, a glimmer of hope seemed to
beckon—as if you were just sleeping, just drifting
getting ready to rouse yourself, climb out of your
hospital bed, head home.
“He’ll be fine, he’s young, and he’ll pull through.
I’ve seen it happen. You will see.”
The old man was certain your condition
was just as fleeting as the common cold.
With a reassuring wink, he toddled off to read
the morning paper, this stranger in his
Khaki pants and polo shirt, a cheerful expression
edged with laugh lines and white hair,
he seemed to know everything.
I felt the floor push against my feet, gravity
with a newness I had never experienced.
Heavy, weighed down by cinder blocks,
placed delicately on my sagging shoulders.
I touched the dog tag that hung around my neck—
yours, Dad, and I keep having to explain
that I’m not in the military, and neither were you—
and I looked after that elderly man as he sat down
to read the paper, wondering if he could see the
sorrow in my eyes, years of torment written
on my facade, words that failed to leave my lips
unspoken fears, buried beneath, by a little girl
who had lost her father—twice.
To think you could awaken gave me pause,
and I stood there in the library and wondered
for a long moment if it were possible. People
appeared and disappeared, drifted in and out of my
vision—but all I could think of was you
and the old man, wondering how you and I and he
were connected in this seemingly chaotic mess
that we call life. And then I thought of how strange
a picture looks when you stare at it up-close—
but everything makes so much more sense when you
step away, and see it from a distance.
Perspectives change, everything changes,
except for one single thing—
Whenever I miss you, I shall look in the mirror
your eyes are my eyes, and mine are yours.
I walk in the bathroom and place my hands
on the counter, my arms supporting all my weight.
In the mirror, I can see so many different versions
of myself. A weeping little girl, then I realize
that it’s me. How am I to let go of this childhood pain?
How am I to step aside and say “Goodbye” when
I have only just met you?
In that fleeting moment after the old man spoke
I thought someone is speaking through this man
God is telling him what to say. He knew not
how his words had affected me. “It’s good of you
to wear that,” he said of the dog tag. “Your father
would want it that way. I think it does something
good for you.” I smiled. “Yes,” I said, “The energy.
I feel as if he’s with me all the time.”
I dreamt we were all at Grandma Polly’s
house, where you used to gather with your friends.
The whole family was there. You had manifested yourself,
an ethereal form reaching out from a discarded shell.
You sat at Grandma’s dining table in your blue jeans
and T-shirt. You looked strong and healthy, if not a little sad.
Perhaps I saw a hint of regret in your watery blue eyes.
You told us you would be all right—not to worry.
They left, but I stayed behind. I stood before you.
You glowed just a little bit around the edges.
You placed your hands on my shoulders and said,
“Rosa, don’t forget that I am still your father.
I will always be your father, no matter what. I love you.”
In front of the mirror, I reach out and touch the glass.
I know that you can visit me whenever you wish.
The veil is thinnest as you drift between the worlds,
peeking at your friends and loved ones, doing your best
to reassure us with gentle thoughts and three-A.M. visions.
I lean forward and stare into my eyes. My eyes are your eyes,
and yours are mine. Tonight, when I come home from toiling
underneath a car, covered in engine grease, cuts on my hands
from run-ins with race-car sheet metal, I’ll kick off my
steel-toed boots and leave them where everyone walks.
I’ll set them by the couch, and people will complain
when they trip on them. That’s what you did.
When I miss you, I’ll look in the mirror,
fall asleep and hope to see you, in the other world,
the in-between, where spirits rest and energy rejuvenates.
I’ll do my best to lift the weights away, to find comfort
in the mannerisms, the features, the tendencies
that you and me share. One thought sums it up as I
stare into the glass—like father, like daughter,
from one world to the next.