Full Steam Ahead
Elegy For My Dad
So many letters and words just chatting with you
Will these words really keep me nearer to you?
If so, what do I takeaway
From each soliloquy?
From one-sided conversations with you?
We are alive when people think of us.
But we are immortal when people learn and improve because of us.
[December 11, 2021, 3pm]
(Right now at your online memorial event)
Our trek today makes me chuckle…
Because it Zooms in on how we are so different
You’re forever chill
While I’m stressed
…Always needing to hustle
So here we are, back in December
Preparing for yet another winter adventure…
Like driving annually to the Bay
To pound rice for Mochitsuki.
I’m monitoring the Siskiyou Pass
Worrying about snow, wind, and ice
Frantically reloading NOAA forecasts.
Practicing snow chains in the garage
Planning moves breaks
I5 Restrooms. Subways. Starbucks.
I’m charting out each step of our journey
To the word
To the letter
Syllable rhyme timing
Case and grammar.
Seeking to secure our safe passage with
A caravan of words
Racing against Time and Nature
Steering clear of the Absurd.
Where is the way?
That virgin highway?
A route without snow ice wind and traffic that we can drive
To keep your white ashes from blowing away.
Now holding your hand.
Soft smooth warm skilled.
Such Great Hands!
Such great touch…
Drop shots. Topspin lobs. Angle half volleys.
Effortlessly switching grips from tennis to racquetball…
Sending three wall Z shots to their deaths,
Fading away, no quarter,
Into back walls and corners.
As a kid…without exception,
You played every sport with me
Every time I asked
Kicking the soccer ball, throwing baseballs, taking BP.
As my personal tennis ball machine
You instinctively knew every shot I tried to practice
Feeding me each ball precisely where I could whack it
…Backhand, forehand, deep or shallow…
Observing the slightest turn of my wrist, my feet, the grip of my racquet.
When I whiffed a serve hit with American Twist
You countered the kick
Crushed a winner back to make the point
…Never pick on
My teammate, my partner, my family
Your palms pushing and pulling me silently
…like gentle oars
Away from boyhood jetties and rocky shores
Away from missteps mistakes and pitfalls
Across adolescent bars and shoals.
Even chaperoning Thirtysomething Penny
Donning and clubbing in a leather jacket
While we watched Chuck’s band
Way back, live at the Satyricon.
Healing, Helping, Soothing, Warm hands…
Teaching people to play.
Building our oven out of brick and clay.
Our father-son repair / demolition team
Your wanton hacking
Versus my careful planning…
Remember fixing Lance’s car?
You accidentally pulled the parking brake
Allowing the car to roll off the driveway?
With you still lying in it!
When the car bumped into the curb and came safely to a stop
We both just shook our heads
With silent disgust…
Mixed embarrassment for our recklessness
But secretly loathing each other’s incompetence :)
You never once
Raised your voice
Knowing just the tiniest note of disappointment
Dropped from your great height
Would crush me.
Later in life and after college
You knew the exact words to help,
“Don’t disappoint YOURSELF”
Making dynamite when we didn’t have fireworks
Making a surfboard when you didn’t know how to surf
Making our brick oven when you never buttered a brick before.
Ironically as a chemist, you couldn’t teach me chemistry
And so (deliberately?) you taught me to teach myself.
And that auto-didactic people
Have fools for teachers.
I learned the dharma of repair and DIY from you.
And most of all, I learned what Ballers do…
Ballers are not intimidated by any competition opponent
The clock. Score.
Or field position…
Ballers change the game.
Extend play into overtime.
And rewrite rules.
Ballers do not feel pressure
They play at their own pace
They play with joy and grace.
Ballers simply do not care
Because they dominate every court
“Raindrops Keep Falling On Your Head” is your favorite song
Makes sense since you are free.
Always making the best of your situation — Gaman Shoganai —
Even as a young boy at Amache.
Seek hidden beauty
Find the silver-lining
With creativity and problem-solving.
OK, so what is my best response to this impending day?
What’s the Jujitsu left to play?
What is the angle, edge, winning geometry?
Fighting from the bottom,
What triangle choke is left to play?
What should I do next?
To defeat the weight and grip of illness and death?
How do we save matchpoint together?
Hitting a deep return that paints the line
Followed up by a crosscourt winner.
I hear you simply say,
Play freely, with joy
Realize there is no end and life extends
Just ball out and run
Don’t worry about winning
And always play for fun”
[December 3, 3:30 pm]
Such a beautiful day
A Cooper’s hawk is injured but can fly away
Camellias are in bloom
Floral winter fireworks.
I do not pretend
that I do not know
what all this portends.
So tonight I’m trying to play you Raindrops on the guitar, your favorite song
“Pure” by The Lightning Seeds
“Don’t Dream It’s Over” by Crowded House
“Teardrop” by Massive Attack
“We Are Going To Be Friends” by Jack White
“Do You Hear What I Hear” by Bing Crosby
“In A Lonely Place” by The Smithereens
“Under The Milky Way” by The Church
[December 4, 2021, 1:25 am]
(So at the end of this long day
Holding your hand with Penny
These are my final words to say)
Sitting next to you counting breaths
struggling to find grammar and lexicon to honor you with elegy–
hacking and stacking tiny words into sentences,
piling up paragraphs
foolishly expecting them to reach
the summit of unclimbable mountains–
I eke out only friable grains of sand,
that fail to link, accrete, and scale
to match your tectonic majesty.
As I gaze upon your Massif life
and try to summon forces of Nature, i. e. Orogeny,
Chanting words of mediocrity
I now realize, selfishly,
These words are not for you
…They are for me.
And what I need (what we all need) are metamorphic words
freed by Duende to soar
beyond page and metaphor
that endure the rust of time
etched with immortal letters
keeping me connected with you
I need cryptographic words
tunneling past unknown barriers
a quantum cipher
allowing you to instruct me from beyond
“Move your feet, hit the ball harder!”
I need self-assembling words
fusing fathers and sons —
parents and children forever —
an unending helical lifeline
coiling across space and time.
I need unbreakable words
strung into a towline
…so your great hands still pull me, buoy me, and guide me
as you sail free
full steam ahead
into an undiscovered country.
Most of all, I need sartorial words
weaving a beloved king’s regalia
flowing backward as you move forward
with endless coattail
that I may ride upon
…ennobled as a prince
honored always as your son!