“A Crown for My Father on Memorial Day” by Stephen Gibson

Stephen Gibson



I have often told stories about you
as a kid I promised not to forget,
like the photo I kept in my wallet
when you were in boot camp in WWII
posing outside your tent—everyone knew
the future would happen but didn’t let
themselves think too much, only to regret
what was in the past they could not undo.
I’d look at that photo and promise you
thoughts of the Bronx River Housing Project
with you home, like that pic in my wallet,
would remain with me forever. Who knew?
That photo, which had serrated edges,
was lost long ago. So much for pledges.



Lost long ago, so much for the pledges
to a dead father in a photograph
who stands outside a tent—and almost laughs;
the smile is hard around the edges
and the photo in memory dredges
up memories after the photograph:
an adult, I want to cut time in half
and remember only a boy’s pledges—
but how can you forget what you still know,
cut time in half and remember before
but not ever what will happen later?
It’s not like tearing in half a photo
and pretending you didn’t go to war
or what you did later to my mother.



And what you did later to my mother,
a child should never see—court photos
document the violence blow by blow
to justify each restraining order,
which you would comply with, and then ignore.
It must have been I didn’t want to know
and turned my mind off as two shadows
entered the bedroom and closed the door.
The cops would come, as they had come before,
and ask your wife if she wanted to go
with them to the hospital, and she’d say no—
when the door opened, there’d be the neighbors.
This was in the Bronx River Housing Project,
images not in the photo in my wallet.



Images not in the photo in my wallet—
nor the image of you in your boxer shorts,
cops helping you with your pants. Their reports
included the weapons, German war helmet,
Nazi flag, and the letters you would let
the cops pretend to read, pretend to sort,
then return to the shoe boxes. You were caught
trying to make sense of what you couldn’t forget—
hence, the war trophies on the bed and letters—
and you going over each one again and again,
and never recalling what you’d done to her,
after you promised it would never happen,
after what you had experienced in war.
Your gravestone marker reads “Tank Destroyer.”



Your gravestone marker reads “Tank Destroyer.”
I took my wife and kids there on vacation.
At Bay Pines, they gave me a map of the section
and circled in blue your row with the number.
I went there because I had promised her.
I have a wife, a daughter, and a son.
The visit was a side-trip on the vacation.
By chance, in another section was a bag-piper.
I took a photograph of your grave marker.
It gives your name, rank, and division.
You passed away when you were thirty-seven,
the war over, but a casualty of the war
(and as a casualty, I include my mother),
after convulsive-shock and pneumonia.



After convulsive shock and pneumonia
you died—buried in Bay Pines, in Florida.
I went to visit as I’d promised her
before your wife died of liver cancer.
I have the map, with section, row, number,
circled in blue ink I keep in a drawer
with batteries, flashlight, if we lose power
in the next hurricane. I live in Florida.
I’m retired. I was a college professor.
My wife of fifty years (also a teacher,
retired), plans trips to our son and daughter
and daughter’s boyfriend in Seattle each summer.
I don’t live in the Bronx River Housing Project.
I don’t have that photo of you in my wallet.



I don’t have that photo of you in my wallet
because I lost it a long time ago,
but I do have the cemetery photo—
it’s on my bookcase. I don’t want to forget
that at City College, you wanted to get
your CPA, the war came, you had to go:
That’s you outside that tent in the photo
and the future hasn’t happened, not yet,
and nothing is lost—the photo, the wallet,
the you (almost) smiling because you know
that’s how she needs to see you as you go
off to a future neither of you could expect.
The past is past; what’s done, we can’t undo.
I have often told stories about you.

from Poets Respond
May 24, 2020


Stephen Gibson: “In memory of my father this Memorial Day.”

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