Cruel Cogito, by Ken Chen

How joyous!,
passing this time alone
with your father, how bright his golden laugh
which drew you to laugh yourself uncontrolled,
how sweet the happy hour oysters you two pry and eat,
piling wobbling shells that glisten on the table
while the pianist plays by the kitchen doors.
You find yourself reminded of what you wrote
in the eulogy: that you two would still possess
a relationship even though
he was dead, that you could still
go and speak with him
when you dreamed

and so you see the seat opposite from you seats no one.

King Lear, by Lisa Sewell

For the father who wakes
and wakes himself, eyes full of himself

and for the one, who when the sun descends
slips into the stormy

smite flat the rotundity o’ the world.

Done in with conspiracy and murder
in his sleep (his eye-tooth finally unfixed
and tucked into a cheek for safekeeping)

he dreams of a three-armed garment
unable to wonder or comprehend
how he has come to this blurred ridge and broken—

I try to fix in my mind, his shining eyes
the terrors he shut his lips against

and his early morning utterly lucid accusation:
“I never would have believed,” he said to me
“that you would be among them.”


About this Poem

‘King Lear’ is part of a sequence of poems that explore the intersection of reading and the construction of identity. Many of the different relationships in King Lear have resonated for me at different points in my life and by the time I wrote this poem, I had already written two other poems with this title. During the last days of his life, my father, mad with what the hospice nurse called ‘sundowner syndrome,’ made me understand the play again in a completely unexpected and heartbreaking way.

Lisa Sewell

King County Metro, by Geffrey Davis

In Seattle, in 1982, my mother beholds this man
boarding the bus, the one she’s already

turning into my father. His style (if you can
call it that): disarming disregard—a loud

Hawaiian-print shirt and knee-high tube socks
that reach up the deep tone of his legs,

toward the dizzying orange of running shorts.
Outside, the gray city blocks lurch

past wet windows, as he starts his shy sway
down the aisle. Months will pass

before he shatters his ankle during a Navy drill,
the service discharging him back into the everyday

teeth of the world. Two of four kids will arrive
before he meets the friend who teaches him

the art of rooing and, soon after, the crack pipe—
the attention it takes to manage either

without destroying the hands. The air brakes gasp
as he approaches my mother’s row,

each failed rehab and jail sentence still
decades off in the distance. So much waits

in the fabulous folds of tomorrow.
And my mother, who will take twenty years

to burn out her love for him, hesitates a moment
before making room beside her—the striking

brown face, poised above her head, smiling.
My mother will blame all that happens,

both good and bad, on this smile, which glows now,
ready to consume half of everything it gives.

My Father’s Hats, by Mark Irwin

Sunday mornings I would reach
high into his dark closet while standing
on a chair and tiptoeing reach
higher, touching, sometimes fumbling
the soft crowns and imagine
I was in a forest, wind hymning
through pines, where the musky scent
of rain clinging to damp earth was
his scent I loved, lingering on
bands, leather, and on the inner silk
crowns where I would smell his
hair and almost think I was being
held, or climbing a tree, touching
the yellow fruit, leaves whose scent
was that of a clove in the godsome
air, as now, thinking of his fabulous
sleep, I stand on this canyon floor
and watch light slowly close
on water I’m not sure is there.

from The Princess [Sweet and low, sweet and low], by Lord Alfred Tennyson

Sweet and low, sweet and low,
   Wind of the western sea,
Low, low, breathe and blow,
   Wind of the western sea!
Over the rolling waters go,
Come from the dying moon, and blow,
   Blow him again to me;
While my little one, while my pretty one, sleeps.

Sleep and rest, sleep and rest,
   Father will come to thee soon;
Rest, rest, on mother’s breast,
   Father will come to thee soon;
Father will come to his babe in the nest,
Silver sails all out of the west
   Under the silver moon:
Sleep, my little one, sleep, my pretty one, sleep.

Practicing Vigilance, by Bianca Stone

Every day try and write down one terrible thing.
One terrible thing—I’m filled with them,
carry each one
like an organ locked in a Coleman cooler.

Add a little color for emphasis.

I say my father’s surname to a migration of crows.
His name like a figure jumping out of an aerodynamic object

through a burning hoop
into a glass of still water.

*

My history is comprised of the inappropriate.
I look into the mirror and see disturbed human qualities,

my face like grass in a summer essay
like a senator stepping into an empty room

to hate his speech,

the almost symmetrical science of it.

Trying to feel something.
Covering rented light with a curtain.

*

Today make nothing happen very slowly.

I can see through the atmosphere’s silk chemise

all the way to the faint constellation in the southern sky
and it’s making me want to shake my head

and ask a question
to the clairvoyant 8-Ball in my hands—ask

if we are among those left in a dark forest

with our flare guns pointed at the ground

or among those loved by our parents’ parents
on the paternal side we never see.

Hell If I know, the 8-Ball says
drunk in its dark blue alcohol.

*

Winter breathed out all language.
My father appeared
and began taking my hair
one follicle at a time.
He worked his way to the neural tissue
threw himself down
in a tantrum.
I listen attentively to the wind
and cannot compute this.
I sell my letter to the sentimentalists
leaving behind a trail of fuck you
crumbs the largest of birds cannot tear.

*

Despite the parables I keep close
I won’t be mythologized by my father
who moves like an incoherent, boozing breeze
through my life’s antechambers.
I won’t admire the west vestibule of the Frick with him
not with this roast on a spit in my chest
the mind like a database of rage-expressions
the mind like a bottle of loose glitter—

so shadowy, my people, you begin
to see the blueprints in all things
until you can’t hold a book without
blowing on it to see if it will scatter
or laying on a bed, waiting to fall through
into the particle-laden apartment below—
to each his own until it ruins pleasure.

*

Where is the rain
when I am feeling this
reckless?

I went to a doctor and she said
There’s a little you in there who feels
hideous—

the little me fell
like a grand piano into my lap

*

Visualize a knock-knock joke with yourself
in a white noise somewhere
on the Upper West Side
a box of Kleenex in your hand.

memory swam through the grotesque
with its spoon paddle.

My dreams always fell flat.

The doctor said:
Start with finding out where your hands go
when you say your father’s name.

*

I say his name and I can see him.
He squats in the corner computing Zeno’s paradox.
He fills another glass and pukes,

starts in again about the illusion of motion—

If I’m coming toward you on the street
I will never reach you, he raves.
I’ll go half way and there will be another half and another half and another half.

He stands in infinite points on the distance
assuring with his ancient terrible glee
that I am going to go out and get a drink with him.

Deep within some cell
the nucleus grows unstable

*

I used to put a miniature rosebush
in the ground each year
to counteract my squalor.
Don’t tell me that definition of madness,
doing the same thing over again etcetera.
The definition of madness
is a certain enthusiasm, then there has
to be another person there
to not share in it—who is oppressed by it
who can only stare into it.
Tell it to the bluebird rustling over my head.
Tell it to a satellite orbiting in its delusion of being a moon.

I’m coaxing the black bull out of my mouth
with a red flag and a beer. I’m constructing
out of my faulty genes,
my last sentence, my last thing
which addresses the dilemma obliquely:

we will perceive our own pain in others.
And we will know if we are capable of loving them.

The Family Photograph, by Vona Groarke

In the window of the drawing-room
there is a rush of white as you pass
in which the figure of your husband is,
for a moment, framed. He is watching you.

His father will come, of course,
and, although you had not planned it,
his beard will offset your lace dress,
and always it will seem that you were friends.

All morning, you had prepared the house
and now you have stepped out
to make sure that everything
is in its proper place: the railings whitened,

fresh gravel on the avenue, the glasshouse
crystal when you stand in the courtyard
expecting the carriage to arrive at any moment.
You are pleased with the day, all month it has been warm.

They say it will be one of the hottest summers
the world has ever known.
Today, your son is one year old.
Later, you will try to recall

how he felt in your arms—
the weight of him, the way he turned to you from sleep,
the exact moment when you knew he would cry
and the photograph be lost.

But it is not lost.
You stand, a well-appointed group
with an air of being pleasantly surprised.
You will come to love this photograph

and will remember how, when he had finished,
you invited the photographer inside
and how, in celebration of the day,
you drank a toast to him, and summer-time.