At the head of the table my father
performed Longfellow’s Psalm,
shedding tears. Be not like dumb,
driven cattle. Be a hero in the strife.
Proud of his school assignment.
Memorized. A couple of stanzas
in, he steeped in the emotion
buried in the lines.
Sundays, sitting around, he’d
talk of his mother, a saint, then
tear up. He made up for her lack
of tears, all those years after
her babies died.
Feelings so close to his skin’s surface,
they began dripping in the quiet spaces,
when he finished running the tractor,
feeding the hogs.
We stood stock-still, fascinated
with our father’s tears, wondering
what to do, no memory of a hug
or a kiss on our foreheads.
Strangely comforting and bewildering,
we knew we were witness to a deep
affection for his mother, poetry, the land
but why tears?
Coming from a prenatal visit
I begin to cry. My four-year-old
searches my face, craving
words. Mommy, are those sad tears
or happy tears?