In Love’s Crucible | Susan Clayton-Goldner
On the first anniversary of his death
my daughter writes a letter to her father
and mails it to me. Winter whiteness fills
every room in my house. Silence hides
so much it is easy to forget and see only
beauty—a lone cardinal at the empty feeder.
This big loss behind her, so many still ahead.
One pine needle at a time, the world diminishes.
As a child, she fought hard with her father.
Now, she wants him back. Thanksgiving dinners,
long talks at the Cliff House, his wry laughter.
Always the Navy man, lectures on the Great War,
remorse at the vacation when she was ten
and he raged at tourists in Pearl Harbor as they snapped
photos of the USS Arizona. She alone witnessed
his late vow to stop calling them “Japs.”
His tears for Hiroshima. Alzheimer’s
taught him one man’s suffering belongs to every man,
and now even his repented sins are hers for good.
In a lucid moment, he looks up at her and says,
“I used to be smart.” She swallows the childhood fear
she wasn’t smart enough for his love, places her hand on
his chest, sharp closeness of ribs. “Do you still feel love, Pop?”
When he nods, she tells him this is the only smart that matters.
My door, once frozen to him, opens at once to her grief.
I stand at the window and look at the dirt road that leads
to her childhood. Even as a baby, her face reflected every
season’s weather, happiness pink as dogwood blossoms.
Rage, a summer monsoon with hail and tornado winds blowing.
Later, when his walls collapse and hips fracture, she grows
wings of protection that flutter over him like moths in search
of his light. As disease takes his mind and he forgets
how to swallow, she fights hard for him, sings Sinatra to fill
his heart as she moistens lips with cotton balls, rubs
lotion into withered hands, reads poetry and Bible verses
while trying to catch each nonverbal cue. When the end comes,
she is still there, raising arms in hopes his soul feels her presence
as it hovers in the reflective glow of a sun that lingers golden
on the sea’s surface, blinks, then slowly fades
and sinks below the horizon.
Susan Clayton-Goldner’s work has appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies including Animals as Teachers and Healers, Our Mothers/Ourselves, The Hawaii Pacific Review-Best of a Decade, and New Millennium Writings. A collection of her poems, A Question of Mortality was released last summer. Her poetry has also been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.