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Elegy for My Dad

Updated on July 28, 2010

A sailor

You moved about the house

With feet that expected the deck to move

As the ship steadily traversed the supple backs of waves

In a sea as deep as you were buried in your thoughts

Your first lesson was that I could talk and be acknowledged

Yet unheard

You showed me a love of hard work and a job well done

Stubbornness and intransigence and harsh judgment

I found the path to your approval

Guarded by a door

Fashioned in the shape of someone who was not me

Yet we shared games of cribbage

And your smoke second hand

As if we were in the non-com officer’s lounge on some Coast Guard cutter

Rolling gently

As the cancer gradually ate you

And radiation treatments destroyed your teeth

And your ability to taste or smell

You took your liquefied meals alone

Gradually receding from us

Like the tide

The smell of cancer burned into my memory

At the end

Fed life through tubes

Until your pain conquered your desire

Twelve years of battle finally over

Strange now you should finally come to me

All golden and shining

Beaming love and approval

Like dawn over the bay 

For a moment only, but that’s okay

Because I get the message

And now I can accept you, too.

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    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 5 years ago from United States

      Thank you, Moby. The present is the only time when life actually occurs.

    • MobyWho profile image

      MobyWho 5 years ago from Burlington VT

      Tom, you speak so beautifully of a father-son relationship. Even daughters wonder how their mothers became so knowledgeable after they are gone. If only we could appreciate in the present.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 7 years ago from United States

      It is a poem that was more than thirty-five years in the making. It is difficult to speak of disease, death and love despite everything. Thanks for reading.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 7 years ago from Nashville Tn.

      I lost my son to cancer and can appreciate some of what you feel. Thank you for this beautiful poem.

    • Storytellersrus profile image

      Barbara 7 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Tom, I understand this, having lost one with whom I felt only judgment for 25 years. What a gift, your vision! What peace this affords. Forgiveness for and from both of you. What a blessing.

    • Steele Fields profile image

      susan beck 7 years ago from drexel hill,pa

      Tom: what a heartfelt poem-- such a difficult topic to explore and you did so with much bravery and honesty.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 7 years ago from United States

      In the sixties and seventies, when my dad was slowly overtaken, treatments were more often worse than the disease. Yet he was an example of courage and stoicism and never, ever a victim. I remember him both as he lived and as he died, my father.

    • Randy Behavior profile image

      Randy Behavior 7 years ago from Near the Ocean

      "As the cancer gradually ate you" :(

    • Scott Mandrake profile image

      Scott Mandrake 7 years ago from Alberta, Canada


    • juneaukid profile image

      Richard Francis Fleck 7 years ago from Denver, Colorado

      A very moving poem!