Philip, I want to tell you a story

A father at his daughter’s wedding

 

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Poem of the Week

An article online about poetry prompted me to find and share this one.

Digging

By Seamus Heaney

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

There Was a Father

there-was-a-father-2

R – Chishu Ryu as the father; L – Takashi Sakamoto as the vice principal

Directed by Ozu, one of my favourite directors, There Was a Father is an intimate look at a widower raising his one son before WWII. This  conscientious father quits teaching when a boy dies on a school trip. It wasn’t the father’s fault. He wasn’t the only teacher on the trip and he had told the boys not to go on the lake (though Western teachers would have run out to the pier when they saw the boys get in the books rather than continuing with their meal, I think).

After quitting teaching because of his feelings of guilt, the father takes a job in a factory and sends his son who’s about 9 to a boarding school. Like all Ozu films, the story is simple and concentrates on the quieter aspects of familial relationships. Ozu’s very observant like a nature photographer who creeps up on his subjects so as not to disturb them and thereby captures how they really are when they aren’t aware of being observed.

At different points the boy presents his case for coming home. He sees family as most important. However the father exhorts his son to work hard. That’s every Japanese person’s duty, to put aside personal desires, however good, to work hard as their greater duty.

There Was a Father was a pre-war movie that complied with the government’s orders for filmmakers to put out films that lined up with their propaganda efforts. Ozu makes the duty theme clear, yet elegant. The film’s a touching look at Japan and family life during hard times.

 

A Poem for Fathers

Father and Son

by Delmore Schwartz

“From a certain point onward there is no longer any turning back. That is the point that must be reached.”

FRANZ KAFKA
Father: 
On these occasions, the feelings surprise,
Spontaneous as rain, and they compel

Explicitness, embarrassed eyes——

Son: 
Father, you’re not Polonius, you’re reticent,
But sure. I can already tell
The unction and falsetto of the sentiment
Which gratifies the facile mouth, but springs

From no felt, had, and wholly known things.

Father: 
You must let me tell you what you fear
When you wake up from sleep, still drunk with sleep:
You are afraid of time and its slow drip,
Like melting ice, like smoke upon the air
In February’s glittering sunny day.
Your guilt is nameless, because its name is time,
Because its name is death. But you can stop

Time as it dribbles from you, drop by drop.

Son: 
But I thought time was full of promises,

Even as now, the emotion of going away——

Father: 
That is the first of all its menaces,
The lure of a future different from today;
All of us always are turning away
To the cinema and Asia. All of us go
To one indeterminate nothing.

Son:

                                          Must it be so?
I question the sentiment you give to me,
As premature, not to be given, learned alone
When experience shrinks upon the chilling bone.
I would be sudden now and rash in joy,
As if I lived forever, the future my toy.
Time is a dancing fire at twenty-one,
Singing and shouting and drinking to the sun,
Powerful at the wheel of a motor-car,
Not thinking of death which is foreign and far.
Father: 
If time flowed from your will and were a feast
I would be wrong to question your zest.
But each age betrays the same weak shape.
Each moment is dying. You will try to escape
From melting time and your dissipating soul
By hiding your head in a warm and dark hole.
See the evasions which so many don,
To flee the guilt of time they become one,
That is, the one number among masses,
The one anonymous in the audience,
The one expressionless in the subway,
In the subway evening among so many faces,
The one who reads the daily newspaper,
Separate from actor and act, a member
Of public opinion, never involved.
Integrated in the revery of a fine cigar,
Fleeing to childhood at the symphony concert,
Buying sleep at the drugstore, grandeur
At the band concert, Hawaii
On the screen, and everywhere a specious splendor:
One, when he is sad, has something to eat,
An ice cream soda, a toasted sandwich,
Or has his teeth fixed, but can always retreat
From the actual pain, and dream of the rich.
This is what one does, what one becomes
Because one is afraid to be alone,
Each with his own death in the lonely room.
But there is a stay. You can stop
Time as it dribbles from you, drop by drop.
Son: 
Now I am afraid. What is there to be known?
Father: 
Guilt, guilt of time, nameless guilt.
Grasp firmly your fear, thus grasping your self,
Your actual will. Stand in mastery,
Keeping time in you, its terrifying mystery.
Face yourself, constantly go back
To what you were, your own history.
You are always in debt. Do not forget
The dream postponed which would not quickly get
Pleasure immediate as drink, but takes
The travail of building, patience with means.
See the wart on your face and on your friend’s face,
On your friend’s face and indeed on your own face.
The loveliest woman sweats, the animal stains
The ideal which is with us like the sky …

Son: 

Because of that, some laugh, and others cry.

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Poem of the Week

To My Father’s Business

by Kenneth Koch
Leo bends over his desk
Gazing at a memorandum
While Stuart stands beside him
With a smile, saying,
“Leo, the order for those desks
Came in today
From Youngstown Needle and Thread!”
C. Loth Inc., there you are
Like Balboa the conqueror
Of those who want to buy office furniture
Or bar fixtures
In nineteen forty in Cincinnati, Ohio!
Secretaries pound out
Invoices on antique typewriters—
Dactyllographs
And fingernail biters.
I am sitting on a desk
Looking at my daddy
Who is proud of but feels unsure about
Some aspects of his little laddie.
I will go on to explore
Deep and/or nonsensical themes
While my father’s on the dark hardwood floor
Hit by a couple of Ohio sunbeams.
Kenny, he says, some day you’ll work in the store.
But I felt “never more” or “never ever”
Harvard was far away
World War Two was distant
Psychoanalysis was extremely expensive
All of these saved me from you.
C. Loth you made my father happy
I saw his face shining
He laughed a lot, working in you
He said to Miss Ritter
His secretary
“Ritt, this is my boy, Kenny!”
“Hello there Kenny,” she said
My heart in an uproar
I loved you but couldn’t think
Of staying with you
I can see the virtues now
That could come from being in you
A sense of balance
Compromise and acceptance—
Not isolated moments of brilliance
Like a girl without a shoe,
But someone that you
Care for every day—
Need for customers and the economy
Don’t go away.
There were little pamphlets
Distributed in you
About success in business
Each about eight to twelve pages long
One whole series of them
All ended with the words
“P.S. He got the job”
One a story about a boy who said,
“I swept up the street, Sir,
Before you got up.” Or
“There were five hundred extra catalogues
So I took them to people in the city who have a dog”—
P.S. He got the job.
I didn’t get the job
I didn’t think that I could do the job
I thought I might go crazy in the job
Staying in you
You whom I could love
But not be part of
The secretaries clicked
Their Smith Coronas closed at five p.m.
And took the streetcars to Kentucky then
And I left too.