“The Way It Is with My Father” by Hayden Saunier

Hayden Saunier


One good hour, then long days adrift—no rudder,
paddle, outboard, sail—the narrow beds

docked, each in its own tidy berth.
There’s nothing to do but be here.

Sometimes, he finds his long length stretched out
in a canoe on the Chickahominy river,

bright sky above the gunwales, saw grass
brushing the hull, sometimes in the skiff

his father rowed out to the big ships as a boy.
Always he’s tethered.

As are we, alongside, watching
his hands worry the sheets.

We don’t know which knots he needs to untie—
bowline, clove hitch, sheet bend, square—

if his hands hold the bitter end
or the working end of the line,

or if another force holds him—wind, current, tide.
All we know is

his hands were the hands that held us.

from Rattle #53, Fall 2016


Hayden Saunier: “I am lucky to have spent many hours sitting beside people I love as they were dying. Simply being there is a wildly complicated act of love, memory, regret, confusion, wishfulness. On this particular day, I was struck by a sense of beautiful drift woven with stories of my father’s and his father’s boyhoods, of passed-down knowledge, and of the complete helplessness of us all at the end. And, of course, by how hard it is to let go.” (web)

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