For My Father: A Sonnet Redoublé

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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.


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.


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.


“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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.