Robert Hill Long


The commonest themes are dependents of the most
absurd reasons that reason refuses to know.
Infinitely silent father: his last act unmans

the son it was meant to grow to his fullest
mortal stature. The first urge is to dance
around the open coffin, singing "Free at last!" but no,

he can't behave that bad-boyish before the rest
of the sad black suits and dresses. He lays his hands
over the heart full of formaldehyde to show

he’s sorry, but for what? Dad's dying is a rigged test
no son answers without lying. He understands
this wax facsimile no better than the last slow

morphine smile the old man passed him like a wry demand:
Let me off now? Never, he thought. And said, "I do."


"Dead Dad" begins with a variation on Pascal's "The heart has reasons that reason does not know" and a conflation of his "The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me." And then it proceeds to burlesque that great moment in Martin Luther King's speech—because there's nothing less unique than losing a father. Check out the (badly timed) Claudius speech to Hamlet, designed to remind him everyone's dad has died, lo these many generations, and his grief isn't that special. Nevertheless. One has immense feelings, looking into the eyes of a dying parent, and then a little later standing beside the corpse a last time, and there's a desire to fill the ache with important words or thoughts--and when those fail, when the solemnity and gravity become unbearable, there's the desire to bust out some emotional white noise, say to hell with death. But the deathwatch always comes back to silence, and patience, and finding some private authentic way to let the dying one--the dead one--go. At the funeral home I tucked a piece of paper with 2 lines of blank verse into the heart-pocket of my father's suit-jacket—a kind of promise. They're not in this poem, though it ends, too, with a kind of terminal wedding vow.