“My Father Transformed by Dying” by Richard Westheimer

Richard Westheimer

MY FATHER TRANSFORMED BY DYING

I sat with him alone in the hospice room.
The breathing machine noises made a nap-drowse 
muddle of me and I nearly lost sight of his star receding 
from here to some galaxy far from where he was, 
a place utterly unlike the stern man I knew, 
who was so cool to the touch. He would often 
cite Kant—that it was better to think than feel, 
until he suffered a private revival on learning 
of his cancer, a death sentence in three quick acts.
He asked me to call him “Pop” rather than “Father,” 
his feelings, new, under siege—he, now, less a man 
and more a near naked patient with no room to move 
but away, as he became less “star” and more a small 
part of an unknown galaxy, warm in the night sky.

from Rattle #74, Winter 2021
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist

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Richard Westheimer: “Like most of the poems I write, this one surprised me as it unfolded. I began with three words written at the top of my page: ‘galaxy,’ ‘incongruous,’ and ‘cool.’ What emerged was a reflection about my father, who died almost 25 years ago. A bonus surprise (poetic turn?) came when I shared it with my sisters—neither readers of poetry. Image after image (sometime more from the universe of Truth rather than that of fact) prompted the recounting of long set-aside memories of our father—mostly experiences unique to one or another of us—which we shared for the first time.”

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