My father, if alive, would have been 83 today.
It’s been five and a half years since his death, but sometimes he still feels so near. Dad’s influence drew me to local poet Timothy Murphy. Though they never met, each time I visited Tim, Dad’s ghost seemed within reach. It was Dad, after all, who first taught me to attune my ear to the rhythms of the written word, especially through poetry.
Though not prolific like Tim, Dad might have been if he’d pursued his talent wholeheartedly. My sister and I once uncovered volumes of poems he’d written, including romantic ones to my mother.
But most were of the “clever and fun” category, his frequent quip being, “He’s a poet and don’t know it.”
Years ago, for St. Patrick’s Day, Dad entered some limericks in a Billings Gazette poetry contest — two under his name, and, to skirt around the submission limit, two under Mom’s. He embarrassed both when she earned top front-page honors for “her” limerick. Another he’d written, attributed to himself, claimed only honorable mention.
Dad’s poems weren’t always meant for posterity. Many were as fleeting as the paper tablecloths Mom spread over our kitchen table for birthday parties. After guests had gone, Dad would use the cake-crumbed finish as a canvas for creating lively rhymes about two of his favorite girls and their antics.
In Dec. 2006, they all burned in a house fire. It’s one of the reasons holding Tim’s poems has become so important to me.
But he and Dad shared something even bigger: a lapsed then revived faith. At Tim’s funeral, it struck me that his conversion had been influenced by being seized by the Word through words. God’s wooing through the poetry of Scripture had left him — and I think Dad, too — duly smitten. Tim’s “Devotions” collection includes a poem called “Roxane.” Many who befriended Tim ended up with a poem. It was his way of reveling in and honoring people.
My favorite, which he shared shortly before his June cancer death, was a nod to my oldest son and his friend, who’d once lent their youthful muscles to Tim’s relocation. Tim emailed it to me April 6, unaware it was my son’s baptism anniversary.
Maybe — I’m hopeful — Tim and Dad are enjoying it together today from heaven.
Christian and Adam are the Shanley boys who moved my household in the blowing snow, their laughter on my stairs, a joyful noise lifting my spirits high five years ago.
Movers trucked furniture, but they boxed books of which I have shelf after laden shelf, some my reflections of my aging self, bound books and manuscripts in dusty nooks.
Christian and Adam, unironic names for two helpers, volunteers from my school, where kids are kindling, verse the fiery fuel, where all confess their adolescent shames.
Now stricken ill I ward away despair, hearing their carefree laughter on my stair.”
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on August 4, 2018.]