“A Partial Explanation of My Father and of Myself for My Eighteen-Month-Old Daughter” by Dante Di Stefano

Dante Di Stefano


I spent far too many years learning him
without learning,
trying to gauge the man

in the language of clenched fist
and midnight prayer; my father
was a broken man,

who went to sleep most nights
before the sun went down
and sometimes he woke

to curse my mother and kick her
out of bed, to call her fat—slut,
cow, bitch—and punch her places

where the bruises wouldn’t show.
I never escaped the angers
of that house or the strange

deep sadness of my father,
who only showed his true face
in our home. I never write

about this because what’s
the point. There was goodness
in him too, but as I aged

I inherited his angers
and channeled them back
at him and at myself

until the cancer came
and his frail body brooked me
back to some brief repose.

Now that he’s gone,
I still struggle to see the best
in him. Today, my girl,

I took you to a gazebo
where an old church bell
has been mounted

on a stand. It no longer rings
unless you slap it
with the flat of your palm.

I hold you up to it
and let you loose its song,
which you do with both hands

flapping like two beautiful
lily little swanlings
about to take flight,

the way my hands took flight
when my father
used to lift me up

to punch the speedbag
in our basement,
back before I knew

the world as anything
but sunlight on gravel
and a wagon pulled

by sparrows. Dear girl,
may I shield you
from as many aches

as I am able, may you
know me as the hands
that held you up

to set the bronze
to singing along
the avenues.

from Poets Respond
June 16, 2019


Dante Di Stefano: “Today is Father’s Day. This poem attempts to sort through some of my feelings about my father, who suffered from mental illness and was prone to violence. For years, I feared I would become like him. After he died, I wrote many poems focusing on the good aspects of the man. Now that I am a father, I’m seeking to let go of some of the anger I feel towards him still by trying to write a more complete picture of the man. I hope that some of these words will be meaningful for my daughter when she grows up. The greatest thing that ever happened to me in life was becoming a father, and, despite everything, I know that my father felt the same way.” (web)

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