The Poem (2013)
He was not legally responsible to provide me with food, or access to education or shelter, because he and my mother never joined in union. Though, there was still a responsibility that he felt toward my family.
Provide me with food. And he did. I was his sous-chef. He showed me how to chop garlic, chop onions, and chop scallions. He showed me which marinades to use, and he told me, “Paul, the sweet and the spicy complement each other.” He showed me how to steal leftover sushi from the all-you-can-eat Japanese restaurant just to avoid the penalty charge. “Wrap the Dragon Roll in napkins and put it at the bottom of your Mother’s purse.”
Provide me with education. And he did. He was my guide. He pushed his way with purpose through the frantic parents of Suffern High School’s meet-the-teacher-night. He asked me, “What have you learned in Earth Science?” “Well,” I say, “Something about stars, that the sun is the closest one.” “Don’t worry,” he says, “I’ll make you sound smarter than you think you are.” A personable man, he cut a deal with the strictest science teacher in the building: an 80 on the Regents Exam would earn me a passing course grade. So he waited until dawn. He waited until I would not want to go to school, like every morning. He could hear my mother, the way my neighbor heard her every morning. “I’m not driving you to school if you miss the bus!” And I did. But he was there, waiting in his 2001 Honda Accord. And he flew across the rising sun, watching his son smiling back at him.
Provide me with shelter. And he did. The night after he died, he woke me up, my cheeks red with tears. I suppose the only love I’ve ever known was watching his fingers curl over my wrist. “He is there,” I said. And I don’t want to end this poem, the way his figure of fatherhood vanished when I couldn't direct my eyes at his ghost any longer. “He is gone,” I said. But I don’t want to end this poem. I don’t want to end this poem.
I am afraid to love, afraid to lose, once again, someone who loves this world so much more than they love themselves. I was in 8th grade when he wrote down four letters: FEAR – F* Everything And Run – it’s the opposite of faith.
He, for the first time, is a father figure. He is the smell of chopped garlic, onions, and scallions. He is what nourishes me. He is the sun, the closest star to my bedroom. He is what gets me out of my bedroom.
And there is no poem, no word that can capture a person. No poem I write will let me speak to him, though I have so much to say.
But you can go now. It's okay. Don't fear. Have faith. Your life has ended, but your story has not. I am ending this poem, and setting you free.