I started writing when I was a kid, around ten years old. My father said he used to come into my room and there would be pieces of paper all over the floor, little pieces of paper folded up with writing on them. When I was outside playing, he'd throw them in the waste basket, cleaning things up for me. Now he says he wishes he'd kept them. "Why?" I ask. "They might be worth something." I assume he's joking. I've published one book, poetry, and you know how famous and rich you become from penning poems. Well, there are many famous poets, but rich, no.
When my father first read my book, I was nervous. I'd written, oh, about one thousand poems about our family life, and a dozen made it into the book. One poem, "Father's Day," was definitely worrisome. (See poem below)
So here is my father's literary critique on my answering machine:
I've read most of your book, and the poems are good. I can see why you won the prize and the book was published. What you say about our family is pretty accurate. However, I do have two criticisms. You describe my hair as thinning. On page 50, a little strand of it is standing up in the wind. I've been told many times that for a person my age, I have a lot of hair. My second point is about my legs. You describe my legs as thin, too. I think you said they're like reeds. But that's not true. Again, I've been told I have very nice legs. I can still run around the tennis court. My legs are strong. Other than those two problems, I think your book is fine, and I'm proud of you.
I listened to this message, trying to figure out whether he was joking or not. He said it so sincerely. So I decided yes and no. Just like saying he wished he'd saved those little scraps of paper on my childhood floor: he was serious and not. Overall, my father makes me laugh, when he's not driving me crazy. (See poem below)
The only person in my family who reads is me. I have no idea why I became a writer, except I always loved words, books, the act of writing. One of my first memories is sitting behind a chair in the living room and pretending to write, just scrawling wavy lines across the blank page. I was twelve. I'm kidding! No, I was three or four, and why I was sitting behind a chair, I haven't a clue, except it was a kind of fort I'd made out of the chair, the piano, and the living room window. I'd show my masterpiece to my mother. She'd stare at the blob of uneven, incomprehensible lines, (language poetry comes to mind now), and then oooh and aww over it. However, after she read my Master's Degree thesis, a collection of poetry, she said, "I didn't know you were so sad." Parental Literary Criticism is probably not the most accurate, but her response did cause me to think. Was I so sad? Certainly not all the time. Anyway, I was quite touched by the fact that my mother read my college poems out loud to my father. My father remarked at the time that he couldn't figure out where I'd come from. He wondered how I got into the family in the first place: I was constantly reading a book, I wrote stories and, even more curious, this poetry. He finally settled on the fact that his mother was descended from Irish Gypsies. Then he went out to do something more akin to our genes: play tennis, drink a thousand beers, and return home to talk once again about chasing General Rommel across the desert. My father's stories about the war were quite lively and vivid. My mother was a great story-teller, too. I came from a family of wild talkers. I'm the one meant to write it all down.
Here is the worrisome poem mentioned above:
No one answers, but I hear the TV's drone.
I push open the door and there's my old dad
hanging like an exhausted gymnast over the arm of the couch,
his fingers touching the floor, his pajamas on inside out.
How does he survive
the booze, the pills, the lack of food
and love? Who could love him? I love him,
but what is this? Again,
I have found him in time to take him to the hospital.
"I want to die," he cries as I fold him into the car,
and it becomes his mantra while I drive
past the bowling alley, the gun shop.
Should I stop and buy a pistol?
"I have nothing to live for," he says.
What can I say?
There is nothing to live for;
we make it up as we go along.
The earth didn't have to exist,
but here it is, and here we are,
parked in the Emergency lot.
He stares fiercely out the windshield.
I touch his hand; it's cold and scaly.
"There's always bowling," I joke.
"I don't bowl," he says.
We smile at each other.
"There's this," I say to my father.
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