DEAREST PAPA

By Thelma T. Reyna

PURPOSE IN WRITING THIS BOOK (ARTIST STATEMENT, FROM THE “FOREWORD”)

I tell you all this with reverence for what we, all of us, don’t know, and with dismay that many of us live every day with unmoored assumptions of our longevity. We clock in and out of interactions with one another, march lockstep in perfunctory duties that we can do, words we can mouth, with dissociation from brain and heart. Not all of us, not all the time. But enough of us, and often enough, that when a loved one is ripped away suddenly, the pain is exponential, epidemic, touching all of us like the ever-spreading concentric circles of an atomic bomb.

Hardly a day passes that I don’t think of an incident, a conversation, no matter how trivial, that I had with my husband, particularly in the last two years of his life, when his health was failing, wherein I am not moved by regret at what I said or failed to say to him. I wish the wife back then knew clearly what the widow now knows…about impermanence, about ensuring that our loved ones know clearly and unfailingly how much they mean to us, how much they enrich our lives, because we’re telling them regularly, with heart and soul.

In my small book here, I attempt to show how these threads of life are interwoven, with relationships evolving and surviving as love, family, and nature line up to mitigate the stab of loss. It is a modest memoir of my husband’s life, and our life together, as well as a tribute to his goodness and devotion. May our dearest Papa be gazing, listening, and smiling his resplendent smile from his other-worldly home.

–Thelma T. Reyna


HANDS HOLDING FIRM

If hands could laugh, ours would’ve pealed our way

through Rome’s catacombs, Spanish Steps, thousand cats

lounging in Coliseum ruins,

and everywhere we roamed on every wheel that

turned—buses, taxis, trains—hands holding firm to

one another, vacationers in love, when we were

young, languoring with afternoon hands circling

warm on weary flesh, sun gilding balconies

outside french doors and marble floors in

alabaster rooms built centuries ago, where

foreign hands speak sentences and poems in

flourishes, and icon cities are for

lovers with palms clasped whenever we strolled

cobblestones, our paths just one, one direction,

together regardless of where.


STARGAZERS

in the evening, after dinner,

you’d take a blanket and our two kids

to the hood of our car

in the driveway, help them

clamber to the warmth and lean

against the windshield, you

bookended between both,

all with legs extended, faces pasted

to celestial darkness

and tiny shards of stars

that you identified to them,

your arm extended like

a pointer, their mesmerized eyes

following your finger picking out constellations–

naming names, swooping your

arm from Little Dipper to Big,

from Venus and Calliope to

the Bear, the Archer, the

Milky Way, Orion’s Belt, and

explaining “light years” in primary

school terms, chatting about

spaceships and suits, about planets

spinning ‘round the sun, our

earth a large blue marble,

with the math teacher turned

astrophysicist unfurling to his

precious children the infinite

grace and luminescence

of heaven


THIS IS HOW GRIEF GOES

When we are grieving, people may wonder about us,

and we may wonder about ourselves.”

–Elisabeth Kubler-Ross*

When loss is swift, when it strikes like a viper in a pot,

blunting hopes and well-laid plans, the hole

that swallows us is bottomless and fierce.

Emptiness unspools like mummy’s tape, endless, frayed, muffling,

gagging, dooming lips and eyes to tombs devoid of words and light,

stripped of loving hands,

caverns of ululations.

Loss flattens us.

But this is how grief goes.

This is how we sink, to rise,

how brokenness is patched together again,

how despair ultimately defies death.


DEAR DOCTOR

All of us are fallible. You should have offered me a chair when

your scrub nurse summoned me from the waiting

room. Mask pulled around your neck, you should have stood

when I entered, knowing as you did.

You should have spoken soft, looked me in the eye, said

you’re moving heaven and earth to save him. You should

have held my hand because you remembered you never

saw him without me.

But all of us are fallible. You sat, I stood, while

your pursed lips played your line not looking good

five times. Your warmest lines. As if any other

surgery, you said to me, return outside and wait.

You should have known he cupped his life into your

hands before your anesthesia sealed his eyes and stomped

his heart. You should have said I’m sorry so so very sorry

before you rose and walked away from me.


LIKE A POLITICIAN, NO TEARS

…my friend told me when the memorial ended, with a sidewise glance at my face as I stepped on clods and burrs on the narrow cemetery path wending my way to my husband’s open grave. “It was amazing,” he blurted.

“In your entire speech, not one tear. Like a politician!”

But yes there were tears. I smiled through them and he was fooled. I spoke softly to solemn faces and there were tears. I recounted my husband’s pain and there were tears. My friend, too far back, was fooled by calm.

For three days when my husband died, I cried ducts dry, endured stone throat that swallowed speech. Paths of sun and moon entwined till light and dark.

The paper of my speech was mottled and edges curled with wetness.

blank face, lips moving

-for they must, they must say words-

heart beating limply

broken hearts dissolve

the same in rain or sunbeams

…quiet, loud, unparsed


THREE BOTTLES

of cologne—yours–brands

you liked: Rivers &

Towers, Antonio Banderas

Seduction in Black, and

Brut…yes, Brut…un-

ashamed, long-necked

bottle, poor country

mouse perched by

brass faucets, by marble

tiles on your side of the

sink, rubbing musky

shoulders with

the Macy’s guys

and you splashed

them joyously on chin

and neck, then spread their joy onto your

chest and arms, and…

yes, between your legs

but Brut was always best, your #1, elixir

from your high school days, your college

nights beneath stars

on country roads,

you handsome guy

that smelled so good

oh, there were other

bottles of parfum sprays

endorsed by rock

star studs, and after-

shaves hawked

loud by rappers

and billionaire jocks–

bottles sitting on your closet shelves

but Brut took you

through banquets and

weddings, wafted you

through humdrum days

and luminous nights,

you in tuxedo and

cummerbund, you

modest Texas boy,

morphing in gravitas

with passing years,

you and Brut smelling so good

three bottles—Rivers,

Banderas, and

Brut–triplets

conjoined arm to

arm, standing

calm on my side of the

sink, manly bottles your

manly hands held, holding your

place, evoking

your scent, your

face, in morning

hours and empty

nights… invoking

you


DEAREST PAPA

Husband.

Father.

Grandfather.

Teacher.

Coach.

Like a string of precious pearls, royal pearls, your life was this.

We might add “Son” for the mother who abandoned you when you

were two but did so with a sundered heart. Without conditions, your

forgiving heart found her decades gone, and healed hers.

We might add “Brother” for three half-brothers and half-sister your

father gave. Though miles and circumstances cleaved your paths, you

later won their love.

We might add “Neighbor” for our fellows up and down our street,

from backgrounds vast, small, dark, light, folks who’d greet you, and

you them, every morning, every day for years.

In any storm or brilliant day, in dusty village or world-class town, in

leafy road or busy street, your humanity shone like a lamp in

destitute alleys, like a comet in swirls of stars. Shone unforgettable.


AUTHOR BIO:

THELMA T. REYNA, Ph.D.

Thelma T. Reyna’s books have collectively won 16 national literary awards. She has written six books: a short story collection, The Heavens Weep for Us and Other Stories; two poetry chapbooks—Breath & Bone and Hearts in Common; and three full-length poetry collections— Rising, Falling, All of Us; Reading Tea Leaves After Trump, which won six national book honors in 2018; and Dearest Papa: A Memoir in Poems, (Golden Foothills Press, 2020). As Poet Laureate in Altadena, 2014-2016, she edited the Altadena Poetry Review Anthology in 2015 and 2016. Her fiction, poetry, and nonfiction have appeared in literary journals, anthologies, textbooks, blogs, and regional media for over 25 years. She was a Pushcart Prize Nominee in Poetry in 2017. She received her Ph.D. from UCLA.

For information about Thelma T. Reyn and her work please go to https://www.authorthelmareyna.com/

2 thoughts on “DEAREST PAPA

  1. My dear friend Monteque: THANK YOU SO MUCH for sharing my work with the wider world. I applaud your choice of excerpts from my book. I began writing this book two weeks after my husband’s sudden death in minor surgery. Turning to poetry during my first year of widowhood enabled me to withstand this loss, to walk the path of reflection and recovery every single day, to unearth things taken for granted during the 50 years of my marriage to Victor, to fully realize the radiance and humanity of this man with whom I shared the majority of my life, this man ripped suddenly away from all those of us who loved him deeply. On this website, you beautifully extract the essence of my book, and I thank you deeply and humbly for treating my heart’s work with such respect and dignity.
    –Thelma T. Reyna

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    • Dear Mrs. Reyna,

      It is truly an honor to be able to publish your work. Dearest Papa is a work that speaks to the losses of 2020. With all of the loss and tragedy it is a beautiful retrospect of a well lived life and love. It is both poignant and heartfelt. Thank you so very much for allowing us to publish this very special work.

      Sincerely

      The Art Of Monteque Team

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