To see my father
lying in pink velvet, a rosary
twined around his hands, rouged,
lipsticked, his skin marble …

My mother said, “He looks the way he did
thirty years ago, the day we got married,—
I’m glad I went;
I was afraid: now I can remember him
like that …”

Ruth, your last girlfriend, who wouldn’t sleep with you
or marry, because you wanted her
to pay half the expenses, and “His drinking
almost drove me crazy—”
Ruth once saw you
staring into a mirror,
in your ubiquitous kerchief and cowboy hat,
“Why can’t I look like a cowboy?”

You left a bag of money; and were
the unhappiest man
I have ever known well.


It’s in many ways
a relief to have you dead.
I have more money.
Bakersfield is easier: life isn’t so nude,
now that I no longer have to
face you each evening: mother is progressing
beautifully in therapy, I can almost convince myself
a good analyst would have saved you:

for I need to believe, as
always, that your pervasive sense of disappointment

proceeded from
trivial desires: but I fear
that beneath the wish to be a movie star,
cowboy, empire builder, all those
cheap desires, lay
radical disaffection
from the very possibilities
of human life …

Your wishes were too simple:
or too complex.


I find it difficult to imagine you
in bed, making love to a woman …

By common consensus, you were a good lover:
and yet,
mother once said: “Marriage would be better
if it weren’t mixed up with sex …”

Just after the divorce,—when I was
about five,—I slept all night with you

in a motel, and again and again
you begged me
to beg her to come back …

I said nothing; but she went back
several times, again and again
you would go on a binge, there would be
another woman,
mother would leave …

You always said,
“Your mother is the only woman I’ve ever loved.”


Oh Shank, don’t turn into the lies
of mere, neat poetry …

I’ve been reading Jung, and he says that we can
never get to the bottom
of what is, or was …

But why things were as they were
obsesses; I know that you
the necessity to contend with you
your helplessness
before yourself,
—has been at the center
of how I think my life …

And yet your voice, raw,
demanding, dissatisfied,
saying over the telephone:

“How are all those bastards at Harvard?”

remains, challenging: beyond all the
patterns and paradigms
I use to silence and stop it.


I dreamed I had my wish:
—I seemed to see
the conditions of my life, upon
a luminous stage: how I could change,
how I could not: the root of necessity,
and choice.
The stage was labelled
The actors there
had no faces, I cannot remember
the patterns of their actions, but
simply by watching,

I knew that beneath my feet
the fixed stars
governing my life

had begun to fall, and melt …
—Then your face appeared,

laughing at the simplicity of my wish.


Almost every day
I take out the letter you wrote me in Paris.
… Why?

It was written
the year before you married Shirley; Myrtle,
your girlfriend, was an ally of mine
because she “took care of you,”
but you always
made it clear
she was too dumpy and crude to marry …

In some ways “elegant,”
with a pencil-thin, neatly clipped moustache,
chiselled, Roman nose, you were
a millionaire
and always pretended
you couldn’t afford to go to Europe …

When I was a child,
you didn’t seem to care if I existed.

Frank Bidart  |  Golden State, 1961