Paulette Beete: Finding Her Father
My father who is 70 never tells me
I love you when I say it
as a good-bye: I love you then
silence. I imagine my words hurtling
from my mouth, a spray
of bullets aimed at my father’s
right ear. Or small stones thrown
from my slingshot jaw, my father
the well that swallows them.
The bottom of this well
that is my father
is a long way down, steeper than any
magic spell can reach or daughter.
My words are falling still. Sometimes
I-love the you lost completely
tumbling toward my father like a rock slide.
Listen, the Night is Waiting
My father is wandering his house.
He slumps up the stairs, peering in doors:
the room with the marital bed,
the room with his son.
He stops often, reaching
a hand up to adjust glasses
he hasn’t worn for months.
The house is dark. The house is noisy.
My father wanders the house though we flung
open the window at his last exhale.
My father’s face slackens.
My brother takes a photo.
My father shuffles past the open window
slumps slowly up the stairs.
He is done with breathing and eating and feeling.
What did it mean when he told his daughters
to move his legs and they heard “Fix the banisters!”
Has he learned to speak in metaphor and isn’t it too late
to become himself? Is there enough Scotch
and is he done with having to love?
My father would like to go to his garden
see the cherry trees ravaged by birds
the tomato patch gone dry
but they’ve locked the doors.
Through the window my father hears
the night singing. She is a siren.
She is a woman who will not weep
when he is done with her.
He will be gone soon.
He will leave his house.
He will leave this grief.
He will fling himself out.
When I wake my father’s wife
will complain about coffee grounds in the sink.
There will be eggs and toast and juice.
Someone will have closed the window.
The Electric Woman
Frida wants us to play “Marina Abramovic at MoMA”
but my tears are such cheap currency it wouldn’t be a fair fight.
When I was a younger woman I would fill buckets with my sobs.
Those were the days I carried bad stories inside me like a penance.
Now I’m deep in debt and deep in sin.
I’ve given up on Our Fathers because I never believed
the way my earthly father took on the role. He didn’t even
memorize his lines. All ad libs. The wrong props. Missing
his entrances, expecting me to cover for him though I had my own worries.
He—the guy playing my Dad—told me I was too smart to be fat
though anyone could see I was swollen with worry
beholden to genetics and the misunderstanding
that what we held between us swung
like a hangman’s news between all fathers and daughters.
Now Frida says—yes, this is the same Frida who refused me the title
Little Monkey, who swore she’d never carry me around swaddled
in silk like a favored parrot—Frida says Frida dictates Frida promises
“Let’s play house!” There is a man-sized trough where some women wear
their babies or diamond engagement rings or trust. Trust Frida
to make a game of it. To make me laugh.
To bruise my hips with her gossip.
“You’re a bad bitch,” my Dad approves from the wings.
He’s breaking Frida down into the parts he wants and doesn’t.
I’ll be frank: he’s figuring out if she’s fuckable.
My father’s like the voyeur moon filling my window each night, yearning
for me to become something he can desire. Something he can need.
The Father’s Lonely Mouth
First, I wrote a poem.
I thought a poem could unbruise me.
I thought a poem could make me un-love my father.
I wrote a poem larger than all the grief that had made me small.
I wrote a poem to make a home after grief had unhoused me.
What I mean is: what is it that a poem can do?
What I mean is: how much grief can a handful of words hold?
I don’t understand why I’m writing a letter to my father poem after poem.
I don’t understand why I’m writing poem after poem as if the dead read.
I don’t understand what I think this poem can do.
Still I write grief after grief after grief like an incantation.
I am no good at naming things.
To name this thing I am writing a poem fixes nothing.
What is father but a word?
What is daughter but a word?
And the poem that contains a father and daughter who have no words between them?
I don’t understand the words that poured out of my father to make me.
How could my father have made me when he didn’t know a single word
to put in a poem or a daughter?
Why did my father leave me without a true word to mean grief?
Why did my father leave without my name in his mouth?
Paulette Beete’s poems, fiction, and nonfiction have appeared in journals including Crab Orchard Review, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Always Crashing, and Beltway Poetry Quarterly, among many others, and in the anthologies Full Moon on K Street: Poems About Washington, DC and Saints of Hysteria (with Danna Ephland). She has also published two chapbooks of poetry: Blues for a Pretty Girl (Finishing Line Press) and Voice Lessons (Plan B Press). She has been a Winter Writing Fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and several of her poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She lives in Maryland and blogs at TheHomeBeete.com
Photo credit: Carrie Holbo Photography