Terminal Resemblance

When I saw my father for the last time, we both did the
    same thing.
He was standing in the doorway to the living room,
waiting for me to get off the telephone.
That he wasn’t also pointing to his watch
was a signal he wanted to talk.

Talk for us always meant the same thing.
He’d say a few words. I’d say a few back.
That was about it.

It was the end of August, very hot, very humid.
Next door, workmen dumped new gravel on the driveway.

My father and I avoided being alone;
we didn’t know how to connect to make small talk—
there didn’t seem to be
any other possibilities.
So this was special: when a man’s dying,
he has a subject.

It must have been early morning. Up and down the street
sprinklers started coming on. The gardener’s truck
appeared at the end of the block,
then stopped, parking.

My father wanted to tell me what it was like to be dying.
He told me he wasn’t suffering.
He said he kept expecting pain, waiting for it, but it never came.

All he felt was a kind of weakness.
I said I was glad for him, that I thought he was lucky.

Some of the husbands were getting in their cars, going to work.
Not people we knew anymore. New families,
families with young children.
The wives stood on the steps, gesturing or calling.

We said goodbye in the usual way,
no embrace, nothing dramatic.
When the taxi came, my parents watched from the front door,
arm in arm, my mother blowing kisses as she always does,
because it frightens her when a hand isn’t being used.
But for a change, my father didn’t just stand here.
This time, he waved.

That’s what I did, at the door to the taxi.
Like him, waved to disguise my hand’s trembling.

From Ararat (Ecco Press, 1990).
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