I Wish I Could Write a Poem Forgiving my Father

by Lisa Zimmerman

I don’t know if you have forgiven him, brother,
for keeping our house tight as a military barracks
our beds pulled at the corners so snug a dime would bounce
though we were not allowed to.
Outside in the dry heat of Albuquerque summer
you pushed the mower over grass
already standing at attention.

In the laundry room I opened the noisy dryer,
pulled out the dozen bleached handkerchiefs
with his three embroidered initials on the edge
and I starched them flat and folded them
and pressed the iron down again on each cotton square.

While our mother slept in a room with curtains
drawn closed against the day our father took
the sharpened clippers to the garage
and ran them over your head until you looked like him.
Afterwards I swept up your soft fair hair
and did not look at your sad boy’s face or the dust
glittering in the air of the outside world.


From The Light at the Edge of Everything, Anhinga Press.

What the poet says about this poem: The poem was first titled “I Wish I Could Write a Poem Forgiving My Father” but ended up with the title “Forgiving My Father” in my book The Light at the Edge of Everything. That was an editor’s choice. I feel the first title is more true. I wrote the poem after one of my students read a beautiful poem about his dad and I said, “Wow. I wish I could write a poem forgiving my father.” The whole class said, in unison, “Do it.” I think I groaned. My father had died just a few years before this and I thought about him for days following that class. Even though I had done a lot of therapy by then, I had trouble (codependent, I know) forgiving my father for his treatment of my brother. I tried my best and the poem came pretty swiftly when I started writing. I was dropped back into that house in Albuquerque, ironing my father’s handkerchiefs, my drunk mother asleep midafternoon in the bedroom down the hall. The heat was stifling. My brother and sister and I were cut off from the “glittering . . air of the outside world.” I feel now that the poem honors my brother and the children we were more than it forgives my father. More about Lisa Zimmerman

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