A form for my father

Five years ago, after a visit in which the signs of his dementia could no longer be ignored, I handwrote a paragraph across 24 pages of notebook paper, one for each hour of the day, about my father and my relationship with him. It became the base text for an asemic writing project called SCRO. I never meant it to be read.

I visited for the first time in 18 months this June and saw with shock how far his condition has advanced. My stepmother can’t really look after him on her own anymore, though she persists with immense courage. Thankfully, she’s letting go her resistance to bringing in a home-care aide. And though my father can’t remember a conversation 30 seconds past, he’s become kinder and sweeter, affectionate even with N., and that’s a blessing, given how much it takes out of her to look after him, now.

His doctor wants him in a facility, which is not going to happen, while N. is alive. I assuage my desire to fix every fucking thing on this painfield with a mantra: You’ve got to let them die as they’ve chosen to live. I’m surprised to find I can let that matter more than my awfully good ideas for their welfare.

SCRO had two aspects: a scroll and a sequence of short videos. The former I finished but never found a home for. The latter, I found after doing 12 of them, I was out of moves. A few were included in a couple of exhibitions and I moved on.

After my visit, the text feels alive to me again, not as the start of something else, but as itself. I put it here as a tribute to my father, our sometimes strained and usually unspoken but always unbreakable love for each other. In places it’s unkind to me or another. I think it lacks compassion for my mother. And there are a great many verbal infelicities. I’ve left all the flaws unimproved, feeling that moments of meanness, smallness, self-pity, they too belong to a life. The text is a record of a feeling process, one I hope that, in this new framing, becomes itself a feeling process.

In the first 13 sections, the image is linked to the video made for that hour. There are also 24 aleatory Easter eggs hidden in plain sight. Easter, festival of the sun’s rebirth, is, I know you know, derived from the name Ishtar. Her lines of flight from my text touch down on pages pulled from books pulled by chance procedure from the Google shelf. Because the page is a field where my father and I met early and long in beauty.

TW: Discussion of suicide and suicidal thoughts from 7 to 10 pm.


SCRO

[6 am]

– pictures of my house I could send him now the landscaping’s almost done. Bay & I put in raised beds, two big ones for summer vegetables & three smaller where I’m going to plant fruit trees I need to drive up to Cloud Mountain Farm to choose. There’s a greeting. Another, before I even heard the mortgage was more than a bank was going to lend me on my own, he emailed to ask if he could help. The house is my own, bought with my labour, & his name verifies mine. A bed under the living room window for perennial herbs, a bed under the kitchen window for edible flowers. We laid drainage in the fall & raised & levelled the yard with topsoil to dry

[7 am]

it out. My house got shorter. Where is he going? into nothing? I miss him already. You always missed him. Sitting at his red kitchen table from a garage sale in Vancouver, at his house there, CBC News on the radio before dinner, steam from his shower after running welling into the hallway. That table’s my brother’s now, I think, down in their rec room. Dad would’ve picked pole beans or beet greens – always hated those – for steaming for dinner. The rototiller & smell of grass-cuttings & old gas in his garage. The tractor shed at Spruce Run still smelled the same as when I was god, what, five, when we went there a few years ago to spread his sister’s ashes, they

[8 am

were granules more, on the slope above the creek. Dad wasn’t with us. In a recent email to me he wondered if it had ever really been called Spruce Run. His father’d had an orchid greenhouse there, by then collapsed & since restored by Lowe’s Home Improvement & the City of Columbus School Board. I can barely keep a bean row. Crows are shouting now in the drizzle out back & a willow or something sticky-uppy in leaf across the lane. Bay & I planted all native species, idea being, they should thrive without too very much care. My last visit to California, Dad kept saying how much he’d have saved if only he hadn’t sued for custody. At least once maybe twice a day. Felt stupid for being hurt by that & angry for feeling stupid. I want his

[9 am]

suit to have been a quixotic attempt to save us from what I want to think he saw closing down around us. Apparently R. wasn’t our mother’s first infidelity either. He was just the one who took. I suppose she would say Dad’s need to run her forced her to it. And controlling for sure he is. I asked N. why she didn’t get her own e-mail account so we could talk privately about what’s going on. You go to the library a lot, couldn’t you use a terminal there? I said. Oh, no, your dad won’t let me go on my own, & when we’re there he wants to be in & out, he hovers over me. Whenever I read To the Lighthouse Mr. Ramsay sets me trembling. And Dad, the infant in him, is only going to come all the more out. And all the controllingness & jealousness in me that I

[10 am]

wrestle down – will they too, when I’m there, & that, come out? N. sees what’s up but won’t see it. Oh, that’s just your dad, he’s always been forgetful irritable antisocial set in his ways. Dad sees it too & it makes him rageful. Well it’s easy enough for me to call it denial, I’m not the one who’s got to live with the degraded future & the loss of what makes me me. On the walks we took with him on his weekends in Kerrisdale, or in North Arlington visiting his mother summers or Christmas in hot-cold Ohio, we two were always long-striding to keep up. That memory’s sweet to me. He knew the names of trees & things & said them: buckeye, Osage orange. He said hi to people we passed & that was sort of strange to me, & it softened something in

[11 am]

the world, enkinded it a bit. The days before his region of the summer I would cry in bed till my mother came down to comfort me. The change from her to him was a lurch up the curb of the world. The change back was the same curb back down. I don’t know how I’ve become a man; don’t know for sure I have. My father got his doctorate from Harvard, he earned tenure, he had children, got rich, has a doting wife. And I, I am a shitty adjunct, obscure & nameless, having no child, having no woman, just as alone as he was all those years, & I probably always will be. I think I wasn’t made for other people. Or I was, but poorly. Hello I am crap mind. Seems I’m lonely for my father & trying to summon one up out of lint & leaf-bits. Dad-

[12 pm]

dy’s going again. Am I going to do it inside this time the way I did it last time? My bad? That won’t be any good for me. It won’t be any help to him. If you haven’t grown up yet time to now. He still walks twice daily “religiously” in Guerneville, his stride a short sort of shuffle-step painful to watch. Oh bitter son let be. His heart’s good & strong. The meds are controlling the atrial fibrillation well. It’s unlikely that what I’m sure’s dementia’s from the sort of mini-strokes that took his sister one by one. No way to know for sure of course without he gets to a doctor for it. He gets to the top of the hill without needing a rest tho stops to feed Babe’s cat (she’s 94) & take her paper

[1 pm]

to her & pet Riley & chat with neighbours. It’s as happy as I see him. Once only have I seen him cry. It was a summer night in Ohio, after a birthday picnic for T. & me, in the car, his mother had choked in a bit of hotdog. I saw & I pointed. Her finger had been raised as if to gather our attention to a point we might consider also. The ambulance took half an hour after a wrong turn on the way to the state park & they said she was in fibrillation & took her to a hospital. Uncle D. was driving us there with Dad in the front & T. and me in the back & D. was saying something Dad didn’t want us two to hear. I didn’t understand the argument & then I didn’t under-

[2 pm]

stand Dad crying. Then there was some waiting & then Dot was dead. I had the feeling when she raised her finger that she wasn’t trying very hard. She looked slow, thick, numb, far underwater. Probably? I spiked adrenaline & everything slowed way the fuck down. Just got that now. My father wanted to protect me. He’d have – why am I crying? – he’d have flashed fire for me. He’d have fistfought a bear for us. N. says what he means by “could have saved so much money” is their mother did so much better a job than I would have. Maybe? A diagnosis of dementia will shatter him. How clouded is my view of this by my anger he’s not smart anymore? He has been to me the acme of intellect, all of what reason’s capable of shining, & I could outwit

[3 pm]

him now at checkers. I won’t get another father. He told me once of walking with me in a contraption on his back in the woods, & he tripped on a root & I flew out, & he ran forward stumbling to catch me & caught me in mid-air in his arms. He’d have laid down his life for me. Either of them would have. So what sort of weirdly quivering thing am I to have thought the powers they unleashed in each other were headed to kill me rather? A mystery tho they lifted not a finger on them to guard me from themselves. Yes & but why did I think, do I think, the rage they lavished on each other (it was always for each other) was meant for me? Too much of a kind

[4 pm]

of sensitivity I guess. I was sitting on a wood floor in a hallway in the dark, trying to put two cars or three cars of a toy train together. My father knelt down beside me. He & my mother wouldn’t be living in the same house anymore. It was not our fault – they loved us very much. I thought fault? And his apartment in Vancouver. And walks with him around the Haney house looking at & naming different kinds of earthmoving equipment. And this when they still were together – a beard he had! Sitting on a chair, bearded, playing guitar, bent over it, concentrated. The room was bare, there was nothing & no one in it. Picasso’s Blind Man’s Meal. It’s going to get worse. Steel yourself. Little by little & more by more he’s going to just blurt

[5 pm]

out whatever he feels. And it’s easy to say I leave it be & don’t push for a medical intervention & so on. But if N. falters he’s going to fall to me. He can’t live with me. I can’t live with him. Brutal boy. That tyrant gaze, it asks a subjection which wrecks me inly to give. I see it sap N. daily the same. She chose it – but would she now? He can’t live on his own down there. Up here, assisted living? He’ll say he would rather die, & I will have to say, you don’t get to yet. Listen, right?, the powers they brought to bear on each other, they were not going – however you might have felt it otherwise – to bear down on you with. They kept you safe from them that much. Say it. They kept me safe from them that much. This morning they said on the radio that

[6 pm]

matter, the whole world of it, has a sound, heaviness itself has a sound, the dark has a sound. Everyone’s glad it does. It’s the fruit of someone’s curious unpossessive reach from a little small local core of care. Can’t be only for me it’s hard to be a person. Can’t be any it’s not for probably. They could have said I don’t have time for this. I’m not going to be a father, probably, more than I already am to hundreds or thousands in traces, and I guess I’m okay with that. But who will come see to me in my elderly decay? That’s not for a while yet. These migraines I inherit from Dad are getting worse for all I do for them. Four different medications & biofeedback & physio & chiropractice. A gift of it I guess – one I don’t really want – is that I get a

[7 pm]

feel now for how Mom’s world is contracted to a little nut of pain. Yesterday I was out all afternoon pulling horsetails. My week away in TO they’d all pushed up thru the earth. I was there to give a talk on chance operations in my work but what stays with me is telling B. over breakfast about J.’s suicide, how I didn’t know him well, hadn’t seen him in years, but the news hit me hard anyway, it had come the same day as I’d said to my J. how thoughts of ending my life had been brushing me – not, I said, that we needed to worry about me, but low-level chronic pain’s a bitch, & actually being back in touch with my mom apparently isn’t good for me, I’ve got something to lose again, before I’d already lost the worst, her love, you know?,

[8 pm]

& I’d lived. My resilience felt shot to hell, & my liking for myself, I couldn’t find it anywhere. Might’ve added, but for wanting not to be too much, when I heard word of ending things on say the radio, the notion seemed, for a moment, a relief. Come rest, it said, come to rest. And that it did spooked me shitless. I told B. I could see sense in J.’s choice even as I raged at it. I looked at the strawberries on the cuttingboard & heard some little bird cheeping out the open window. J. said, no more to this, or that, I put it down. Why would I even ask why am I crying? No more of this, or that, for me, I’m done. I got it. I saw that it was sane. And I saw that it wasn’t mine.

[9 pm]

I wanted more of it, another moment, & another, whatever was in it. I didn’t say yes to it – yes said me to it. As to this no I carry with me everywhere, yes to this too, if it’s the cost of being at all for me. It may yet find its right bearing. I may have to break it off with Mom again. Her mind has resumed a place in mine where it is injurious to me. If I do break it off, there’s gonna be blowback, & I gots to father me in it. There’s no one else going to. That student, A., who told me she’d been feeling suicidal in the winter, I asked her, What’ll you do if you find you’re in that place again? I’ll call my boyfriend. Okay so well what if you can’t find him? I guess I’ll call my parents. Okay but what if they don’t pick up? I’ll call the suicide hotline. Okay, do you have,

[10 pm]

you have the number in your phone? When I called the person that answered was useless. Say they let you down. Say all the people you reach out to let you down. What are you going to do? She shrugged. I’ll tell you what you’re going to do. You’re going to get yourself to the ER at St. Joseph’s, & you’re going to tell them you’re suicidal, & they’re going to look after you. If you can’t get there on your own, you’re going to call 911, okay? Okay. I want you to promise me. I promise. A few weeks later she had to go there, & went there, & she was okay, she was fine, she was good. The conference was fine, the conference was good. A seagull shat on my head & shoulders, three hours before my talk, great gobs of seagull shit, good luck, I was told later, on a

[11 pm]

date – a date, WTF? The talk went fine, it was good! Got back, the horsetails, shit-tons of them, pulling them now for the Oregon sunshine & the oxalis to get their light on again. The yarrow’s establishing well. I wish he could see it, I wish he could visit. But he doesn’t travel anymore, no further than, I don’t know, Santa Rosa. I learned from N. on my last visit that his urinary sitch is worse than I’d known, it’s not just frequency, it’s incontinence, but will he see a doctor about it, oh, no. Instead N. buys menstrual pads & she stitches them in his briefs & while he’s as thrifty as she, well, that one must unman him twice over. The aspens, up from suckers, are shaking most glorious this morning. Ache of fathering forth out of Hopkins in them. Same

[12 am]

wind as shakes this page. The gift of the gift B. gave me came a little later as I stepped out of the shower in the vaguely depressing residence we were in, came as just, health in body & mind, get back to that, you got off track a bit. Why do I feel that’s selfish? This body’s a vessel of life, this mind’s a vessel of life, why selfish? The least stone in the path so why not me. Even affirming it I elide any me in it. The “possessive.” Who or what on earth could ever possess? This body is my body – remember? Say it. This body is my body. I’m done work for front out now. Beans are clambering up their poles, & cherry tomatoes are goldening at their end of the asparagus bed & I’m turning

[1 am]

now in mind to the back, which is thick with horsetails again, & morning glory, & I’ll be out there among, this weekend, the day-lilies flowering & the blackcurrant flowering & the cinquefoil gone to seed. These two yards, front & back, of my escrowed house – two seed sacs astride an attuned & capricious life-discharging waste-discharging vessel that swells & wanes at a passing thought. Hm. Something to that. Something about a signless sign. It’s aasemic writing yo. Started last night to wean from the goddamned gabapentin from the goddamned hernia op. Which did fix the nut pain but dropped two new pains down there nearby too. If I had known. Well, the pain’s still there, but the shit makes me fat, & I want it out

[2 am]

of me. Cut the dose by half, that made for a doomy mood. Tossed & turned last night & dreamed high hedges with holes with children in them. Hallowe’en candy in the alleys. I don’t think the world needs me to have children. Of course it doesn’t. But I had this sense of loss on waking which I don’t even know how to put words to how I don’t know how to put words to it. Those summers in Ohio we played catch, he had no idea what was in us, he threw, we caught & threw, he praised, we missed, ran & threw, he chided, & then he praised. Does he know what’s happening to him. Early early stage, probably he does, knows & doesn’t, knows & refuses. Stubborn cunt. The going isn’t ever only going, that was the thought I had on waking, it’s al-

[3 am]

ways also – a forwarding? the word was greeting. I don’t know what I meant by that; wasn’t I that meant it. He didn’t know what was in us, or what we were in, but still by inches he drew us out & into the present he was in. Is that what it is to father? A student in my summer class, L., she goes very far away inside. First day, she wouldn’t speak, not even her name, she just stared at the floor till I moved on. Eyes darting this way & that. I thought, trauma, bad, dissociative disorder, but I don’t know. I care for her tho I don’t think she likes me. Been trying to clear a path for her to help. Like the system can help. Got mad at her once for making me feel useless, stupid,

[4 am]

helpless to help. The way you might at a hurt bird for outwitting your little need to hold it. That’s a stupid anger. Also stupid to be angry at me for it. Let be. Let be. All I’ve got is practice & I don’t even know what practice is! Well, I like her smile, all those awful teeth. I don’t know what her hurt are but I feel their rhyme with those in me. I wish I could lift them from her. I’m going to stop asking me why crying & trust answer. Daido said trust yourself & I said WTF. This is the fuck. At dinner a couple of nights ago at a friend’s place a man, older, good friend of good friends, not really a friend of mine, he shouted at me for some reason, probably not no reason, to shut up, & some rage, & some blood, & some tears, they all rose in me,

[5 am]

I felt them all in my face, & they wouldn’t settle. After a bit I got up & said good night. Halfway home, almost stopped & walked back, I wanted to tear into him, Christ I wanted to, I almost tore into him. That’s a pun, it’s his name, a somewhat dim Norse god’s. God that would have felt good. But our host, she had made us a lovely dinner, & her father’s dying, & I didn’t want, & don’t, to be out of peace. And the man knows no more than I how to be one or to ride the righteous wave that feels like a god in you but’s not. Warrior should be inward, guns should be gone, we’re too goddamn dumb. I could name cities & not be done & not be done & not be done. Ah dawn is coming – has come – a gift I could send him – pictures of my house

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headComposter

I write draw teach blog in and from the Pacific Northwest of America.

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