One of the artist residents asked me, just before she left, if I wanted the red chair. The red chair sounded special, so before I said yes, I wanted to see it. It reclines and has an ottoman, and “it’s perfect for reading,” she said.
It’s perfect for writing poems, too.
I sat in it the other night and started on the “love poem” I wanted to write for the collection.
Back in October, prodded by my undergraduate professor Ogunyemi, who was helping me with grant applications for this project, I wrote to my father. Ogunyemi kept on saying, “You have to know that he is there. You have to know that he is alive.”
After a year and several months of writing poems in my journal, I composed a letter. It was not as lyrical as the poetry. It was quite factual and journalistic: who, what, where, when, why, and how. I stated my name, my mother’s name, where I was born, and where I currently resided. I said something about being a poet, working at Goddard College, and that I was getting married in January to a lovely woman whom I’ve dated for five years.
I situated myself in place and time. To give myself that since of location meant that I could be found, that I was here. (I have always been here.) I was making myself real to him, and therefore he became real to me.
I enclosed a Moo business card that had my picture on the front and my contact information on the back. He called me on February 14. Yes, Valentine’s Day.
His thick Guyanese accent and bass voice made every other word intelligible. Listening to him required all of me, and I remember the distinct sadness I felt not being able to fully (and wholly) hear him.
This is what distance does—it makes communication difficult. I missed out on his rhythms. His cadences, somewhere within, are familial, but mostly he remains foreign to me now.
After our conversation, I took down notes to record the bits of information I retained.
He said I have the “madness” in my poems. The madness is passion. This makes me chuckle every time. It’s true, in all the ways that you can define madness.
His brother, who has remained in contact with my mother, because they both went to the same high school, shared my poetry with him. I’ve learned about my father through his brother; he has been the one to share the history of his family with me, and for that I’m grateful. I wonder if Gerald has ever said thank you to his brother for helping him maintain the connections he did not nurture.
(I think about all the brothers who stepped in to be father figures, when they themselves needed to be fathered. My older brother, my uncles Andre and Butchie (rest in peace), and cousins, gave and practiced love. I have been blessed to have good, caring men in my life.)
At some point in my conversation, Gerald recited a poem he wrote—I asked him to send it to me, but getting him to send anything through the mail has proven a challenge. The words my ears could catch were: “window,” “identity,” and “down the river.”
I guess we are all poets, mesmerized by the conjunctive experience of water.
He said that my name, each letter, has a story in it. I don’t know the story and I guess the story is for me to find out. Or rather, I am the story. The story writes and revises itself each day.
The salve for my heart was his acknowledgment of his absence. He ended the call by saying, “I love you.”
Holding all these truths, that at times seem contrasting, is how I entered the writing of the love poem. I sat with it all, and so the poem begins:
It is not love to be questioned?
To be considered a discovery,
the other side of the hill?