For My Father: A Sonnet Redoublé

1.

If you were here, you’d know how I believe
in signs. No, not astrology, but signs:
the dream a sexy drummer smirks, declines
my tired flirtations while I play naïve,
and stand, busty with purple lipstick, pining.
The biker gang I almost hit but dodged,
and Robin’s epic 90s speech still lodged
too comfortably inside my psyche (dining
beside my other thoughts): It’s not your fault.
You might not know, but I write poems now,
and read, while bathing, Rilke, Salter, Howe,
our Jericho, decaying minds like Walt.
Today’s book starts Dear Father. Yes, it’s true.
So, Dad, this crown of sonnets is for you.

2.

So, Dad—a crown, these sonnets, all for you.
For me, some time to tell you what you’ve missed.
I can’t. I don’t do much these days, subsist
on vices: doing things I shouldn’t do,
like eating chips or eyeing photographs
of me, the same ones always, as I try
to spy a crumb of beauty. I apply
my makeup poorly. Still, I have to laugh
and wonder: do we choose our flaws or vice
versa? Well, I walk outside and feel
a worldwide ache, but life’s a blooper reel
for me (self-deprecating humor’s twice
as fun). Be proud. Your “praise” was always spotty.
I’m learning everything you never taught me.

3.

I’m learning everything. You never taught me
anything, really, so I teach myself.
I find your obit— no, not on a shelf
but on the internet, eyes sore and draughty
in their sockets, this comment: “I’ve heard Tom
could travel across Route 50 with a blindfold
and still track down a disco.” Cut, paste, bold
it on a Word doc. Legacy.com
is now my autumn reading. I don’t mind,
really. Even writing this is strange.
Pretend you’d lived. Would you try to estrange
yourself? Would I have responded in kind?
You know, I understand your thick disdain.
I’d say that overall, I’m pretty plain.

4.

“I’d say that overall, I’m pretty plain,”
I tell the man too close to me in line
at Starbucks when he says I’m gorgeous. Crying:
not something I do in public (brain
shrinkage caused by my depression’s not
my favorite topic). Now I play forgetful.
Of course, I should have thanked him. Why regretful,
though, years later? Old news. I’ll allot
an hour or so a day for self-obsession,
and then run 13 miles, play some Mozart.
Dad, I’ve fooled the crowd. They think I’m “so smart,”
but this letter has become a therapy session!
(Send me a bill.) The brooding’s so on brand.
Maybe next life, we’ll hold a better hand.

5.

Maybe next life. Will holds my hand far better
than anyone. He says, “You can’t be sad. Cool
girls like you are fine.” I’m now in grad school,
rocking Levi’s jackets, Eddie Vedder
hoodies, J. Crew sweaters, cluelessness.
God, so little experience. My friends
are baseball cards men swap for “perfect 10s.”
They say, “That guy? He used me, too?” This mess
is like a different dialect to me
until it isn’t. I go to a psychic
with Jen (you never met her. I’m her sidekick.)
She, purple-haired, says “Baby, only three
more awful dates until you find the one.
When feelings last, some deeds can’t be undone.”

6.

When feelings last, some deeds can’t be undone—
but that’s the last thing girls should talk about
with their own fathers! Nope, without a doubt.
It’s Tuesday, and another cop, his gun
in tow, has done his part to cleanse the Earth
of color. Protests. Plague. Paralysis.
At this point, some psychoanalysis
would do me good, a spiritual rebirth.
A man, 79, I love perennially,
says, “We must solve the crisis— in this country—
of mental health.” Kardashians. Kris Humphries.
Shootings. Instagram. Some new “millennial” we
toss aside for a busy year or ten.
Until we hear one took his life again.

7.

Until we heard you took your life. . . . again,
Dad, things used to be one way and now,
I just don’t know. Sometimes, I don’t allow
myself to know. You only knew me when
Karl, the boy I sat behind in math,
asked, snarling, “Do you always have to say
your opinion about everything?” Today
(and other days) I haven’t thought. The aftermath
of losing you? It’s possible, unless
a mind in beige often devoid of art
was fated. We’ve spent 13 years apart,
and still it’s you I’m trying to impress.
Did you like poems, drink them by the liter?
You could have been a stan for rhyme and meter.

8.

You could have been a stan for rhyme and meter—
do you know what “stan” means? It didn’t show
in the dictionary till three years ago.
A stan: a zealous fan. An overeater
of fresh red velvet cupcakes, for example,
“stans” sugar hard. And here I am, your kid,
stanning ghazals, sonnets, couplets. I’d
say that most, I stan my rock stars, trample
other stans to death inside the mosh pit
(I wish!) at concerts where I purchase fruit
for the guitarist (“ugly but so cute,”
my friend calls him. “You, sis, are an ‘it
girl.’” I smile, my nervousness apparent).
I know I’ll make a brilliant, tragic parent.

9.

I know I’ll make a brilliant, tragic parent.
Now that’s my destiny. I’ll run my hands
through curls (I hope they’re curls!), twist every strand.
My kids— damn cultured (Rent, Le Juif Errant,
and Dostoevsky, Plath)—are mortified
when I say to the waitress, “I can’t eat
an entire case -a- dilla! Just one!” (Neat
joke, I’ll tell myself. A bona fide
comedienne here.) When I was a child,
I read that those who lose our parents young
feel. . . what’s the word used? Other. I’m among
the others. Wow. By now, I’ve reconciled
my otherness with sentiments of sameness.
Lately, I’ve found myself completely blameless.

10.

Lately, I’ve found myself. Completely blameless,
a girl I haven’t spoken to since age
12 sees you smiling on my Facebook page
and says, “You make him so proud.” Her surname is
not what it once was. I’m jealous. Bride
is the title I want most. But still, I think
I can make progress. Mom asks, with a wink,
if I make myself proud. It echoes. Pride:
the truth is proud (like lonely) I can’t say
it ever really occurred to me to be.
Even in secret fantasies, carefree
is something I can’t grasp, pricey bouquet
of troubles. Soon, another will arrive,
a new arrangement destined to survive.

11.

A new arrangement: destiny survives,
and fate and soul mates. I’ll apologize
for my skepticism, sleep, arise
perfectly-rested, be that girl who thrives
beneath the pressure. Sure, astrology.
And crystals, too. Why not? The whole nine yards.
Dad, did you ever peek at tarot cards?
Were you more into demonology,
or sports, or cars, or old-school films? I guess
I’m asking, what kept you with us for as long
as you were here? God, people say I’m strong
as if I have a choice. But fine, I’ll dress
in silky scarves, eat tacos a la carte.
Until the end, I’ll keep playing the part.

12.

Until the end, I’ll keep playing. The part
where our heroine gets her big break
(a music number! She’ll wear a red wig, fake
lashes!) makes us cry cause from the start,
we knew she had the courage in her! Beaming,
she dances on the table in a boa.
The boys on mopeds cruising Figueroa
didn’t see the movie, yet keep dreaming
of her in tights for seven weeks, at least.
I’ve never been a film buff, Dad, but I
spend Sundays fantasizing about pie
and that girl. Other characters— the priest,
the bully, moon-crossed love interest, the gun-
man, don’t matter. It’s our girl who won.

13.

Man, no matter who’s our girl, who won,
what winning even is. . . it’s time to wrap
this letter up. Farewell! Goodbye, ol’ chap!
I’m only joking, but we may be done
here. After all, I’m running out of rhymes,
the meter’s fucked, I don’t have many stories.
Your brother poured your ashes on the shore (freez-
ing yourself? That’s something folks in primes
of their lives do, so no, not your style).
A girl I know (she’s miles away and stunning)
said I should write this. It’s better than running
or boring dinners with that Francophile,
so yes, I wrote to you all afternoon!
Perhaps I’ll see you someday, maybe soon.

14.

Perhaps I’ll see you someday, maybe soon,
is not a solid way to end a note
to anyone, much less your father. Quote
me on that one. Just trust me. Rooms are strewn
with Lay’s bags (which we already discussed),
and bottles of psychiatric meds run dry,
the eyeliner I’m learning to apply
with such finesse, a clock that needs adjust-
ing, desperately. But do you need to know
what my new bedroom looks like, or my house,
or even what I look like, how I douse
myself in face wash, if it makes me glow?
For either of us, would it be reprieve
if you were here? You know what I believe.

15.

If you were here, you’d know what I believe,
Dad: a crown of sonnets, all for you.
I’m learning everything (“You never taught me,”
I’d say.) Overall, I’m pretty plain,
but maybe next life, we’ll have better hands
and feelings. Last, some deeds can’t be undone,
and then we heard you took your life. Again,
you could have been a stan for rhyme and meter,
and watched me make a brilliant, tragic parent!
Lately, I’ve found myself completely blameless
in my new arrangement, destined to survive
until the end. I’ll keep playing the part,
man, no matter. Who’s our girl? Who won?
(Perhaps I?). See you! Someday may be soon.

Alexis Sears

Alexis Sears

Alexis Sears earned her MFA in poetry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her Bachelor’s from Johns Hopkins University. Her first book, Out of Order, won the 2021 Donald Justice Poetry Prize and is forthcoming from Autumn House Press in 2022. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Hopkins Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, Cortland Review, Cimarron Review, Poet Lore, and elsewhere.
Alexis Sears

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Author: Alexis Sears

Alexis Sears earned her MFA in poetry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her Bachelor’s from Johns Hopkins University. Her first book, Out of Order, won the 2021 Donald Justice Poetry Prize and is forthcoming from Autumn House Press in 2022. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Hopkins Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, Cortland Review, Cimarron Review, Poet Lore, and elsewhere.