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  • Poem of the Day: The Father of My Country
    All fathers in Western civilization must have
    a military origin. The
    he is
    was the
    general at one time or other.
    And George Washington
    won the hearts
    of his country—the rough military man
    with awkward
    drawing-room manners.

    My father;
    have you ever heard me speak of him? I seldom
    do. But I had a father,
    and he had military origins—or my origins from
    are military,
    militant. That is, I remember him only in uniform. But of the navy,
    30 years a chief petty officer,
    always away from home.

    It is rough/hard for me to speak
    I'm not used to talking
    about him.
    Not used to naming his objects/
    that never surrounded me.

    A woodpecker with fresh bloody crest
    at my mouth. Father, for the first
    time I say
    your name. Name rolled in thick Polish parchment scrolls,
    name of Roman candle drippings when I sit at my table
    alone, each night,
    name of naval uniforms and name of
    telegrams, name of
    coming home from your aircraft carrier,
    name of shiny shoes.
    name of Hawaiian dolls, name
    of mess spoons, name of greasy machinery, and name of
    stencilled names.
    Is it your blood I carry in a test tube,
    my arm,
    to let fall, crack, and spill on the sidewalk
    in front of the men
    I know,
    I love,
    I know, and
    want? So you left my house when I was under two.
    being replaced by other machinery (my sister), and
    I didn’t believe you left me.
                       This scene: the trunk yielding treasures of
                       a green fountain pen, heart shaped mirror,
                       amber beads, old letters with brown ink, and
                       the gopher snake stretched across the palm tree
                       in the front yard with woody trunk like monkey skins,
                       and a sunset through the skinny persimmon trees. You
                       came walking, not even a telegram or post card from
                       Tahiti. Love, love, through my heart like ink in
                       the thickest nibbed pen, black and flowing into words
                       You came, to me, and I at least six. Six doilies
                       of lace, six battleship cannon, six old beerbottles,
                       six thick steaks, six love letters, six clocks
                       running backwards, six watermelons, and six baby
                       teeth, a six cornered hat on six men's heads, six
                       lovers at once or one lover at sixes and sevens;
                       how I confuse
                       all this with my
                       walking the tightrope bridge
                       with gold knots
                       the mouth of an anemone/tissue spiral lips
                       and holding on so that the ropes burned
                       as if my wrists had been tied

    If George Washington
    had not
    been the Father
    of my Country
    it is doubtful that I would ever have
    a father. Father in my mouth, on my lips, in my
    tongue, out of all my womanly fire,
    Father I have left in my steel filing cabinet as a name on my birth
    certificate, Father I have left in the teeth pulled out at
    dentists’ offices and thrown into their garbage cans,
    Father living in my wide cheekbones and short feet,
    Father in my Polish tantrums and my American speech, Father, not a
    holy name, not a name I cherish but the name I bear, the name
    that makes me one of a kind in any phone book because
    you changed it, and nobody
    but us
    has it,
    Father who makes me dream in the dead of night of the falling cherry
    blossoms, Father who makes me know all men will leave me
    if I love them,
    Father who made me a maverick,
    a writer,
    a namer,
    name/father, sun/father, moon/father, bloody mars/father,
    other children said, “My father is a doctor,”
    “My father gave me this camera,”
    “My father took me to
    the movies,”
    “My father and I went swimming,”
    my father is coming in a letter
    once a month
    for a while,
    and my father
    sometimes came in a telegram
    my father came to me
    in sleep, my father because I dreamed in one night that I dug
    through the ash heap in back of the pepper tree and found a diamond
    shaped like a dog, and my father called the dog and it came leaping
    over to him and he walked away out of the yard down the road with
    the dog jumping and yipping at his heels,

    my father was not in the telephone book
    in my city;
    my father was not sleeping with my mother
    at home;
    my father did not care if I studied the
    my father did not care what
    I did;
    and I thought my father was handsome and I loved him and I wondered
    he left me alone so much,
    so many years
    in fact, but
    my father made me what I am,
    a lonely woman,
    without a purpose, just as I was
    a lonely child
    without any father. I walked with words, words, and names,
    names. Father was not
    one of my words.
    Father was not
    one of my names. But now I say, “George, you have become my father,
    in his 20th century naval uniform. George Washington, I need your
    love; George, I want to call you Father, Father, my Father,”
    Father of my country,
    that is,
    me. And I say the name to chant it. To sing it. To lace it around
    me like weaving cloth. Like a happy child on that shining afternoon
    in the palmtree sunset with her mother’s trunk yielding treasures,
    I cry and
    have you really come home?

    Diane Wakoski, “The Father of My Country” from Emerald Ice: Selected Poems 1962-1987. Copyright © 1988 by Diane Wakoski. Reprinted with the permission of David R. Godine/Black Sparrow Press,

    Source: Emerald Ice: Selected Poems 1962-1987(1988)

    Diane Wakoski

    More poems by this author


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