"The Story of the Father"

A weekly poem, read by the author.
May 13 2008 7:23 AM

"The Story of the Father"

Listen to Tony Hoagland read this poem.


This is another story that I often think about:
the story of the father

after the funeral of his son the suicide,
going home and burning all the photographs of that dead boy;

standing next to the backyard barbecue,
feeding the pictures to the fire; watching the pale smoke
rise and disappear into the humid Mississippi sky.

Aware that he is standing at the edge of some great border,
ignorant that he is hogging all the pain.

How quiet the suburbs are in the middle of an afternoon
*****************when a man is destroying evidence,
breathing in the chemistry of burning Polaroids,

watching the trees over the rickety fence
****************seem to lift and nod in recognition.

Later, he will be surprised
**************by the anger of his family:
the wife hiding her face in her hands,
****************the daughter calling him names

—but for now, he is certain of his act; now

he is like a man destroying a religion,
or hacking at the root of a tree—

*Over and over I have arrived here just in time
to watch the father use a rusty piece of wire

to nudge the last photo of the boy
************into the orange part of the flame:

the face going brown, the memory undeveloping.

It is not the misbegotten logic of the father;
it is not the pity of the snuffed-out youth;

It is the old intelligence of pain
********************that I admire:

how it moves around inside of him like smoke;

how it knows exactly what to do with human beings
to stay inside of them forever.

Tony Hoagland's most recent book of poems is What Narcissism Means to Me.

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