On Fatherhood and Fear


Here's the first complete draft of the poem I was percolating from our trip to the mountains. I used to have a helluva imagination as a kid, and I passed it on to my oldest. I learned, on this trip, that my old fears have been replaced by new ones ...

I don't usually try so hard for consistent rhythm or rhyme, but the minutes that night were marked by his rhythmic breathing, punctuated by odd pauses, sighs, and snorts that kept me on edge every second. You parents of infants know the sensation of checking to see that your baby's still breathing? This was sort of like that, but with a big kid.


reassurance
he’s softly snoring now, his vapor breath
between a rumble and a purr – i lie
awake to hear the elk, who, scenting death,
chirp warnings from the frosty meadows high
above his dreams
he seems
oblivious to all that crawls or flies.

he stirs; his snoring falters, stops, resumes –
the sound recalling predatory fears
he shared in fevered whispers in the gloom
as evening’s silent minutes turned to years
he sees the bear
its glare
more baleful black than night through frightened tears.

imagination is a fearsome glass
that magnifies the thought to more than real –
the never and unlikely come to pass
as blood flows less to thought and more to feel
and every noise
to boys
becomes as Death, their living breath to steal.

i reassure him – tell him his old man
is bigger and as hairy as the bear.
he laughs to think of me, my knife in hand,
against his nightmare, in my underwear
his breathing slows
he goes
to sleep with me awake, and none to share

save wary elk and creaking mountain pines,
his steady breathing, my quicksilver thoughts –
it’s cold tonight; the wind begins to whine
the tent begins to strain against the knots
i touch his hair
and stare
to find him peaceful, and me, overwrought.

throughout the night i wake and check and fret
and ask, “are you alright?” and “are you cold?”
i knew the risks, out here, of getting wet
but not the cares of young men getting old
a thumping heart,
i start –
a father’s fears writ long-hand and unrolled.

and so it goes, ’til every worry’s spent
and to the east the starry sky turns pale
and proof of life is dripping from the tent,
each drop a slow, translucent, shimmering snail …
a bear-like yawn
at dawn
he wakes fish-hungry; says, “let’s hit the trail.”

j. thorp
29 sep 07


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