At Father’s Funeral by Ellae Lawton

June 30, 2016 | By | 2 Replies More

On a black-draped table before the altar,
confined in a cardboard box beneath
a folded flag–Father, apparently bound
for heaven by post, next to the serious
photograph in winter blues, so different
from the grinning one in summer khaki
taken at Great Lakes during Roosevelt’s war
when I was five or six or seven.

Luckily he came through without a scratch
except a tricky knee hit by a line drive fouled
into the dugout where he sat next to maybe
Mickey Cochrane or Bob Feller–more likely
Mike, as they were fellow officers. But I
was wounded twice, first in the child’s heart

where I kept my love of country, pierced
by unspeakable sin of a mushroom cloud
that blew my country’s innocence to bits
like a devil’s firecracker dropped on
Neverland….and then lower in my body
when a careless sailor’s digit pierced me.

Mother said I changed when I was seven;
she could not think why. I only knew
unhappiness, not why, blamed moving
to a landlocked city townhouse, missing
my best friend and Bluejackets singing
“I’ve got sixpence” as they marched
down to the Basin, missing my swing

in the big oak tree and sliding down ravines
where I found trilliums and bleeding hearts
and bluebells, dodging evil poison ivy.
Missing my dog and my daddy who taught
me to dance the Charleston and play bugle
calls on a red-white-and-blue plastic horn,
dog and man shipped out “for the duration.”

My almost-grown son puts his arm around me,
the arm and his name derived from Father.
We sing the Navy Hymn: “Eternal Father,
strong to save, Whose arm hath bound

the restless wave, Who bidd’st the mighty
ocean deep Its own appointed limits keep,
O hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea.”*

But not all the perils lurk on the sea,
Father, Eternal Father and earthly father
now ashes in a brown box chosen because
biodegradable–were the ashes of Hiroshimans
biodegradable?–not everything keeps
its appointed limits, and not even children
can dodge all the poison ivy.

*William Whiting (1825-1878)

Ellae Lawton has edited books in Manhattan and taught in a Gulf Coast college. Now ensconced with a little dog near her daughter and the Atlantic coast, she has returned to writing and editing, with sporadic attempts at gardening. Her work has appeared in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Wild Goose Poetry Review, Referential, Iodine Poetry Journal, and several other publications.

Tags: ,

Category: Prose, United States of America, War, When Women Waken Literary Journal

Comments (2)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Mali Warshofsky says:

    So telling a story of survival, spanning through generations and atrocities, so well spoken of the unspeakable, so incredibly expressed. Its the funeral of a loved one that evokes such strong emotions of past, while the hand of the present is trying to comfort..

  2. Anora McGaha says:

    I’m struck by “I was wounded twice” part. It’s clear that the young girl was deeply moved / horrified by Hiroshima (& Nagasaki). But then the poet continues with a subtly expressed second hurt, telling us “where” the girl was hurt, but not at what age the next hurt happened. We are left to imagine who that sailor was, and if the digit was literal or a euphemism. The girl changed at 7. Was it the first hurt, or the second hurt, or both? I noted that the poet says “evil” poison ivy. Unusual I thought, but fresh. Then at the end, putting one and two together, I imagine that the evil was the dangers that hurt the girl.

    The girl knew she was unhappy, but not why, speaking to suppression of the painful, creating a dissociation with the source of unhappiness, or so I think.

    I appreciated the humor of being “bound for heaven by post,” and was delayed in realizing “shipped out for ‘the duration'” meant, passed away. That’s good. It sounded like a military term for ‘the period as assigned.’ I really valued reading the Navy Hymn.

    The last stanza is particularly rich. If the Eternal Father, like the earthly father, is (in) ashes, would that speak of lost faith? Or did I misread your intent?

    Fascinating and beautiful work. — Anora McGaha, When Women Waken

Leave a Reply