To my Grandfather,
whom I’ve always loved but never knew:
You are a distant star to me.
A mysterious diamond shines in the night-sky back of my mind
whose light is just now reaching me…
When I see your picture, you look back at me most intently
as if to tell me
that although I never knew you, still you knew me.
As though to ensure that I’ve received a message you sent back then,
back when I could barely talk that is just now being delivered to me.
To tell me that you cared for me.
And like a star dies,
you shone across a universe of time that preceded me,
casting rays that stretch into days that you would never see.
Your messenger knocks at today’s front door,
sent from a source that isn’t there any more.
And here’s the rub:
This one way communication that passes without hesitation
From twenty-seven years past,
this signal reception brings back
your face and a million questions that I can’t ask
But had I the chance…
If, in a dream, I could return to my oldest memory:
You’re looking back to me, fixing the TV
so I could see the fans on the screen
while I swam in your chair; a sea of faded upholstery.
If God gave the opportunity to me
to take a single question to you in this scene
I know just what it would be.
No need to scour my tomes of question marks,
I know just the one that captures the sum of its parts:
“How did you do it?”
How did you do it?
And in that moment I hope you’d see
the countless questions inside of me,
that I’ve bundled within the one
the root from which the others grow from:
How did you grow up poor yet live such a rich life?
How did you capture the life-long respect of four sisters?
What was it like seeing both World Wars, Vietnam, the Depression?
How did you circumnavigate the country as a teenager,
sleeping under your car at night,
scraping concrete off of bricks to pay your way
for food along the route,
and making auto-repairs when you broke down
with no one there to show you how,
like patching your radiator with oatmeal for crying out loud?
Can you tell me how?
Can the life you lived then teach me now?
How do you make it through when so much is required of you?
How do you know you’ve done all that you can do?
How do you raise a family that will carry-on long after you’re gone?
How do you keep them safe in your heart while the world tears itself apart?
How does a father love a daughter into the kind of woman you taught my mother to be?
How does a father love a son into a man that he can be proud to be?
How does a husband treat his wife with honor and humility?
How do you nourish the family tree
with roots that drink deeply
from a well of strength and integrity
that won’t run dry when all that’s left of you is your memory?
how did you do it?
Now let me expose the reason for those questions I pose,
to explain why I plead for answers to these,
for by now it should be plain to see:
These queries that I ask of thee,
Are the same that are being asked of me
It seems to be that I’m on your journey,
overwhelmed and understudied but I’m learning
I’ve got so much to lose and I’m confused a bit.
I’ve been given a commission but need a clue what to do with it.
Made a few false-starts in life but trying to follow-through and be true with it.
It’s hard to live a good life in a world that is crude but somehow you did it.
So I might follow your footsteps but these shoes are too huge to fit.
But if you stood in mine now,
could you please tell me how
you wore yours so well?
If you could see my circumstance
if I had the chance
to tell you my plans,
would you applaud my stance?
What would you say to me
as I scrape the ground with my hands to the plow
trying to carve a small nest for my seeds to rest,
where they can settle in, where their roots can dig in
and sprout their first leaves on this family tree?
How can I do for them what you did for me?
To place a star in their sky?
Though all the world be shrouded in night,
give a bright, guiding light?
Is this something you can teach me to do?
You are someone I look up to
my methods and strategies are few
so I wonder: “How did you?”
This is no idol worship.
I’m sure you made mistakes, no man is perfect.
But there are those God leads,
like threads in a weave,
in and out of our lives for times of need.
Or to provide lessons to learn.
A foundation to stand on
when life calls us forth for our turn.
One more thing I need to mention:
I’m told, in some ways, that I’m your reflection
Same lips and nose and facial bones, I know
But there must be something deeper than those.
Is it true?
Are there things of me that are of you too?
Do I do some things the way you used to do?
And what of me? This ever-itching mystery:
Though you I never knew,
what did you know of me?
But like the moment we shared when I was two:
You, looking across the room to me and I, lost in your chair
looking back up to you –
This is all the recollection I’m due.
Of my one and only remembrance of you.
I can only pose questions to you.
And they echo within me still.
But I’ll hang on to this image.
For that was the moment – just months before you left.
Though your heart gave out it feels like theft,
Yet somehow you live on despite your death
Right there –
In my youth, you gave me my oldest memory
To a toddler who could hardly speak
You deposited to my life’s treasury
And with a single glance, conveyed your legacy…
That star in the distance,
winks and casts its rays
from history to this day.
A shine that is lasting,
I’m searching and asking.
how did you do it?