In Florida, Visiting My Father Who Has Parkinson’s and Dementia
Like sand dunes, his cheeks are sliding away and his white hair has collected
in tufts of downy feathers, like a seagull’s, today. Sometimes, he meets my gaze
with eyes grey as a newborn’s, and as gentle, as though he’s a changeling—a man
ancient with clarity, sincerity, a man as wise as a child made of questions.
Still, Mother repeats her rules: “He can’t walk far; don’t tell him what’s
happening; he doesn’t know what he’s saying.”
But can’t he; doesn’t he?
We walk in the hot breeze. He shuffles toward the shade of his pretty palm trees,
toward the wild orange skies of birds we watch splash down in green ponds,
while he asks: “Who will come help me?”
He wonders, “What did I do?”
He says, “Someone picked me for this.”
Followed by, “Why?”
And concludes, “I wasn’t a bad boy.”
CALLING MY FATHER
After I leave you, I allow
days, sometimes weeks, to
go by without calling,
convinced I’m doing you a favor.
I think I make it easier if
you don’t have to work
so hard looking for all the
words you lose trying to
talk to me. If I don’t call,
then you can continue
to forget me & I can
stop wondering what you
might have meant in
everything we already said.
If I don’t phone, you won’t be
sad when I say goodbye.
If I don’t phone, you won’t cry
and I can’t ever hang up.
Ghazal: RED BANK
He was a Vet and she was pregnant when the newlyweds left Boston for Red Bank,
where new motherhood alone on a foreign Jersey shore made her abhor Red Bank.
He worked the coastal radar station, woke at dawn to fish in the sea. His memories
of sharks and seagulls tell me he would’ve someday liked to live again near Red Bank.
Ask her about the child she raised by the windy green water and she’ll recall hand
washing diapers, laundry on the line, dirty dishes, and boring Red Bank.
My father used to say I’d sit on his shoulders to see Manhattan across the bay.
I went to work there after leaving my parents, who long ago left poor Red Bank.
Waves of those years return on the rare days now my father can recall my name, —,
and asks if we can go to the Florida beach he remembers as pure Red Bank.
A 2022 finalist for the Annie Dillard Award in Creative Nonfiction and a 2012 Pushcart Prize winner for her essay “Dark Horse,” Lisa Couturier is author of the collection of essays, The Hopes of Snakes (Beacon Press), and the chapbook Animals / Bodies (Finishing Line Press), which won the 2015 Jean Pedrick Chapbook Prize from the New England Poetry Club. She is a notable essayist in Best American Essays, 2004, 2006, 2011. Currently at work on a hybrid manuscript about Parkinson’s as well as a memoir about her ex-racehorse, Couturier is writer with the Sowell Collection in Literature, Community and the Natural World, an archive at Texas Tech University. She lives in Dickerson, Maryland, on Montgomery County’s acclaimed Agricultural Reserve, where she keeps her six horses and is an Associate Artist at Riverworks Center for the Arts.
Image: Gottscho-Schleisner Collection, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons