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Posts Tagged ‘Patry Francis’

The Map

December 22, 2005 15 comments

Inside the obdurate
bones of my skull, a map
to the city where I was
born, and each night I walk

its spidery lines.
I stop at each corner
to read the street names,
to gather the wanderers

who lived there once. I walk
outward from my house
on the dead end road, toward
the center of the city

and greet every half-forgotten
neighbor along the way.
I pass the house where half
a century ago, a young

girl heaved her newborn
into the well. I peer
into the scrappy yard
where she’d brought

her child; I feel them both
trembling in the dark.
The bones are there, too–
smaller and whiter than

anything on this earth.
I stop at a dirty
stream near a house where
an outcast family had

lived. I call them out
to play but hear only
the defiant murmur
of wind and water.

I’m tired then but there are
a few more miles to walk
before I sleep — past church
and school, past factories

where nothing has been made
for decades. I walk faster
under the bridge where men
with deadened eyes cling to

the bottles they thought would
save them. When I was young,
I feared that looking into
those eyes would curse me.

Now, caretaker of this lost
city, I know the reverse
is true: It’s in the turning
away that we perish.

by Patry Francis of Simply Wait

Categories: Finding Home Tags:

The First Red Leaf

October 7, 2005 13 comments

For me, as soon as the first leaf turns crimson and falls from a tree, we’re heading inexorably toward Thanksgiving. Not just the Thanksgiving of turkey dinners sharpened by tart red berries and anxiety-freighted or wonderful (or more often both) family gatherings.

No, for me, Thanksgiving is also the last day I saw my father alive. We had always promised that he would never have to go to a nursing home. It’s the kind of vow many families make, utterly believing it, but naively unaware of how complex and expensive illness can become. Complex enough that it cannot be managed at home. Expensive enough to be prohibitive. My father had a feeding tube and a problem with aspiration that required constant monitoring by a well-trained staff.

But this is not about the indignity or the occasional necessity of nursing home care. This is about that fall when an amazing and incredible thing happened to my father: He got sick and confused, and I took him to the hospital where he got more sick and confused. Then he was transferred briefly to the nursing home where he died.

It is, of course, the most common story in the world. But I–middle aged, and fancying myself fairly intelligent–never really understood it. Oh, I knew about death of course. I regularly read the obituary pages, mourned for the victims of the mass tragedies that regularly seize our collective consciousness. I had not reached the age of forty without losing some friends and distant family members. But until I saw my father’s uninhabited body, I never really knew.

When I visited him two days before his death, Dad was in a state of great excitement. “Great excitement” was a phrase that could also describe the way he lived much of his life, so the family was pleased to see him acting like himself. Though his mind was still confused, he was planning something big. He called all his grandchildren on the phone, and told them about it. “Everyone is coming,” he said, and there was going to be some kind of a parade. When it was over they would all go to my mother’s house.

“It’s our house, ” my mother interrupted, tugging on a sleeve. “Not mine.”

“No,” he insisted with great firmness. “It’s your house.” Those words would haunt her.

He struggled to remove his wedding band, and the medal he had worn since he was nineteen when he’d joined the Coast Guard.

“Take these,” he said, and turned away. When I tried to give them back, to remind him how important they were to him, his voice grew stronger. “Take them!”

Before we left, he asked us to wheel him to the doorway, but when we started for the front door, he shook his head in frustration. “Not this one. The back door.”

We laughed, still not understanding what he was telling us, but enjoying the return of his old enthusiasm, the strong will that had sometimes tyrannized us. “This is the door they’ll take me out,” he said matter of factly when we showed him the back exit.

In a September issue of the New York Times Magazine, Joan Didion writes movingly about the loss of her husband, John Gregory Dunne. In it, she refers to Philip Ares when she says that death: “gives advance notice of its arrival. Gawain is asked ‘Ah, good my lord, think you then so soon to die?’ Gawain answers ‘I tell you I will not live two days.’ Ares notes: ‘Only the dying man knows how much time he has left.'”

It’s your house,” my father said.

Yes, fall comes again, and that first leaf turns red. Soon it will be Thanksgiving and once again, I will think of my father as he was on his last day. They had dressed him up in someone else’s clothes. A pair of brown corduroy slacks, an attractive plaid shirt. Someone had brought in a TV set and he was watching “Rosie O’Donnell.”

I wanted to talk, of course, but he was pretty much done with that. He sat in a wheelchair in another man’s clothes, his hands clasped beside his head in a familiar pose, and waited with great peace for what would come next.

Written by Patry Francis, of The Marvelous Garden.