For My Father

For My Father


Not locked in the ritual of his
Sacred Nap --
I could shout in his ear now.
No fear, child, he's beyond hearing.
Powerful voice stilled,
No breath to support a snore.

Strong hand of an aging aunt
Touched the silver casket
Not half an hour ago.
"You were our last brother," she said.
"Now you're gone."

No priest could come;
They were gone that day,
So only the family was there to see.
Grieving souls' arms rested on my shoulders.
My voice broke as I read a Psalm.
("Lord, let me know mine end
and the number of my days...")
My cousin cried when she read
Committal prayers
From our grandmother's old Prayer Book.

(Were we committing a sin?
The old ways, the old words
were forbidden several popes ago.
And I --
converted Anglican in a Roman cemetery --
"Have mercy upon me, O God,
after thy great goodness.")

I believed then
As I believe now.
God is God to one and all,
Yea, even unto the heathen,
Though they must call Him
By another Name.

When we were done with our prayers and readings,
One of my aunts came to embrace me,
And for a few seconds, I cried with her.
After she left,
I lapsed into fearful silence.
"O God of my father,
God of my ancestors,
God in whom I place my trust,
Give me the strength
To do what is right,"
I prayed,
As the rest of the family
Began to drift back to their cars.

The Psalm
Was still in my hand,
Written in calligraphy on thin parchment,
And rolled into a scroll.
There was a white rose, too,
And I wanted my father to have these things.
I approached one of the undertakers,
The kind one with the somber overcoat
And steel-gray hair,
Rather than his tactless younger brother.
He did as I asked,
And allowed me to stand by and watch.

I saw my father then.
Thin and wasted
From the cancer that had taken him.
But he was at peace,
And looked comfortable
In his robe and pajamas,
With a bright quilt
His mother had pieced and sewn
Tucked around him.
Had he been in a bed,
I would have believed
He was settling down for his
Sacred Nap.

But this was a casket, not his bed,
And he was still.

The snow on the ground
Was bitterly cold on my knees
As I knelt down beside him.
I felt
As if I owed him more
Than a Psalm and a rose
And a parting glance.
When I was a child,
Hadn't he always kissed me goodnight
Before I went to bed?
And so,
To wish him a peaceful slumber,
I kissed his forehead.

He was as cold
As the wind that whipped around me.
I rose and walked away,
And my last thought
Was to fear that he
Wouldn't be warm enough.

C. P. Warner