A Poem for my Father, 1980

by Rick Campbell

You don’t know me.
Women. We never talk about.
Drugs, we ignore.
The war: remember Vietnam?
I would have run
but my number was too high.
So I wandered away
and crossed the country
like I had reason.
Now this. Poems. It’s stranger
than the long hair and the house
in West Palm Beach where
every five minutes another person
came down the stairs
and you stopped asking,
Does he live here too?
So you don’t understand.
Others talk about their first sonnet
at age ten. Or poetry they had to read
like piano lessons. Not us.
You want to know when
this will all pay off.
It matures like an insurance policy.
If I live to write a poem
young girls will dance in my arms
like pension checks. Even critics
will love me. The County Times
will hint of scandal. The old neighbors
will shun your house completely.
And you, though you still won’t
understand, will hold the poem
in your hand and look
across the river for proof.

From The Traveler’s Companion, Black Bay Books

What the writer says about the poem: I wrote that poem a long time ago, in the late 70’s when I was student at UF in Gainesville. I don’t know why I dated it 1980. I was always angry at my father and I just imagined that he would react and say what he said if he had ever visited me when I lived with a bunch of people in a big old house in West Palm Beach. However, I always liked the idea that in this poem I sort of told him off, that I sarcastically implied that he was not smart enough to understand poetry, and I like that the end of the poem is a little bit like a curse. All that had gone wrong between us must have had something to do with my writing poetry and it would come back to bite him. I never really told him off. I never reconciled with him before he died either. But, it seems like I must have imagined someday giving him a copy of my book with the poem in it. What does that say? That I wanted him to read my poetry? I am sure that I did. I don’t think he ever saw the poem. I do think that I felt better because I imagined that I told him off. Someone, maybe Richard Hugo, said he liked that he created a braver better, version of himself in his poems. Maybe me too. More about Rick Campbell


2 thoughts on “A Poem for my Father, 1980

  1. drew myron says:

    What a thought-provoking poem!

    And what a fascinating blog format; the poems are great, and the first-person backstory creates an even stronger reading experience.

    I’m happy to have found you (via Rick Campbell) and this blog. Thank you, Tania!


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