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>The Story of the Father

May 13, 2010

>I think the hardest thing to do when you’re grieving is nothing. It would be so much more satisfying to make a grand gesture, to lash out. Like in “The Story of the Father” by Tony Hoagland:

This is another story that I sometimes think about:
the story of the father

after the funeral of his son the suicide,
going home and burning all the photographs of that dead boy;

standing next to the backyard barbecue,
feeding the pictures to the fire; watching the pale smoke
rise and disappear into the humid Mississippi sky;

aware that he is standing at the edge of some great border,
ignorant that he is hogging all the pain.

How quiet the suburbs are in the middle of an afternoon
when a man is destroying evidence,
breathing in the chemistry of burning Polaroids,

watching the trees over the rickety fence
seem to life and nod in recognition.

Later, he will be surprised
by the anger of his family:

the wife hiding her face in her hands,
the daughter calling him names,

–but for now, he is certain of his act; now

he is like a man destroying a religion,
or hacking at the root of a tree.

Over and over I have arrived here just in time
to watch the father use a rusty piece of wire

to nudge the last photo of the boy
into the orange part of the flame:

the face going brown, the memory undeveloping.

It is not the misbegotten logic of the father;
it is not the pity of the snuffed-out youth;

it is the old intelligence of pain
that I admire:

how it moves around inside of him like smoke;

how it knows exactly what to do with human beings
to stay inside of them forever.

Much has been made of how “accessible” the poetry of Billy Collins is; this poem seems to me similarly easy to enter. Although where you end up might not be where you thought you were going.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. May 13, 2010 6:06 pm

    >Wow. Lovely. And sad. And…other things I can't find words to describe.

  2. May 13, 2010 6:20 pm

    >I understand. Still working at looking at pictures from last summer.

  3. May 13, 2010 6:59 pm

    >I like that a lot – thank you.

  4. May 13, 2010 7:12 pm

    >Interesting how this comes right after your review of Ella Minnow Pea. I see the destruction of images and the forbidding of letters side by side.

  5. May 14, 2010 12:45 am

    >Your commentary is right on. It will take you somewhere you're not sure you want to go. Thanks for sharing this .. it was powerful.

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