Boats Sailing in Uncharted Territory
I receive a phone call: your father is dying.
It’s like easing a boat into choppy water.
I’m not going to make it in time
when I’m across the country in Georgia.
If I want to say goodbye or say thanks
for the memories, it’s half too-late.
He arrives at the hospital half-dead,
dies the rest of the way.
They say he saw his death coming for months,
and no one wanted to concern me. Memory thanks
anyone who cares. It’s a nasty hot Georgia
November, and deer move tentative
through heart monitors, halving time.
They just want me to know, I do not have to worry,
he eased into death like they were bed slippers.
The news anchors deep. Memory halves.
In half-light, the phone makes no sense.
I forget to ask why they withheld the news.
I drop whatever I am doing. Too late
is always the worse news for memory to hear.
It’s almost funny the terms we use
to avoid saying directly someone is dead:
he passed away; it was his time; it’s better this way.
They say they will hold up the funeral until I arrive.
I am four hours from the nearest airport. I drive
through the night and Georgia heat
like a directional arrow.
They say I’ll laugh about this someday.
I do not see the humor in any of this day.
Boats going out does not mean boats returning;
some boats vanish
where ocean and horizon blends.
by Martin Willitts Jr.
Editor’s Note: This poem begins with a simile, and that image is extended throughout, easing the reader into the grief of the speaker, a pain that has no useful explanation, but must simply be endured through all of its messy complexity.