On that Friday,
In the labor of my father’s leaving,
His breath beckoned its other,
But his eyes—
Like the lake, their color
Depended upon conditions—
Blue, they deferred to sleep;
Alert again and aquamarine, they surprised us:
Is someone watering the flowers,
Collecting the mail, am I dying?
Yes, Dad, yes, and yes.
On that Saturday,
Father McGovern arrived like a hero
Before he was summoned:
I left a wedding reception to be with Fred.
Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Cornelius,
Chrysoganus, and John of the Cross,
Receive him into your glory.
A nurse brought us a small sponge on a stick to moisten his lips.
He pursed again, and again, and again.
Be careful, he can’t swallow.
His eyes, grey-blue, found Mom, and he smiled.
Just before midnight, unseen, he left.
On that Sunday morning,
The thirteenth in ordinary time,
The gospel made us giddy:
The child got up.
Give her something to eat.
Gesturing like Pentecostals,
We must have disturbed the parishioners
Who had not heard the sad news.
After Mass we babbled:
It was wonderful for us to be there,
But told no one else the story about our story
For the time being.
On that Monday,
We found old photographs
And celebrated us, for the most part.
He’s another cousin.
Would you like to meet him?
Perhaps, after all the stars have fallen,
And all the tears have dried,
We shall see our brothers arm in arm,
Already at the well of living waters.
For this our father would have died as often as necessary.
Intensification cannot improve
Negatives seriously underexposed.
On that Tuesday,
There was a box—
So sorry for your loss—
That did not contain our father’s smiles, questions, or thirst.
If nothing obstructs the light for him,
The flowers must have been for us.
The gift cards from the local florist read:
If you believe in me, you will live.
And yet, our downcast eyes could not avert
The thought that skulked the hospital halls,
Now so boldly manifest:
Dad will be inaccessible.
On that Wednesday,
The cortège took us farther into the forest
Than we had gone before.
At the graveside, Father McGovern was brief:
After faith, all you have are days and one another.
Before we noticed the rain,
The undertaker distributed sturdy, green umbrellas,
Out of proportion for the sprinkling of water,
And their unfurling, one by one,
Covered us, with logos overhead!
My father accepted this offering from his whole family:
A ballet of green umbrellas, our grief already spent.
Jeannette Canning Schmidt’s poem, “Fathom It,” was recently accepted by Commonweal. Other poems have been published in Blue Unicorn and Rhino. An article, “Regarding Bel Canto: On Not Singing Praise,” will appear this summer in First Things.
Note: This is the correct version of the poem, which was formatted incorrectly in the print edition. We regret the error.