Myrna Stone

Five Poems from In the Present Tense: Portraits of My Father



I Drive Him Back to His Vacant Childhood Home


The barns, the fields, the woods he trapped in

and creek he fished, the ice and smoke and out houses,

and the house itself, its clapboards and kitchen

ell, all look, he swears, the same. He grouses


a moment at the ramped-up wind and cold

that keeps us in my car, then starts a full-bore

description of how he and his siblings, bold

as ravens, watched through gaps in the floorboards


their parents making love. "Weren't you about

six?" I ask, but he's pointing toward the parlor. 

That's where my mother was when she bled out,

he says, then tells me what he told his brother


that day, busy tossing jacks at a skillet:

BasilMommy's dying—you've got to be quiet.


How He Managed His Heart's Desire


He took our mother, whom he'd loved for years,

to Dayton to his boarding house, and during

the course of an afternoon confirmed her fears

by seducing her. He was headstrong, blurring


and breaking his own rules, and mad to marry.

She had just turned nineteen, and though smitten,

had made it quite clear she was in no hurry.

I need time. I'm just too young, she'd written


him weeks before, to get engaged. Afterwards,

as he tried to hold her she pummeled his chest,

crying "Kenny, look what you've done," words

that both shamed and thrilled him. His bequest:


love is blind, and if that day he transgressed,

he also plainly saw the path to yes.


How He Assuaged His Loneliness


Just nineteen months after our mother's death

he wed a widow over ten years younger

who proved his equal in the ambitious breadth

of her desire to control. With her umber


wigs artfully coiffed and big expressive eyes

she was a knock-out on our father's arm

at yacht and country clubs, in dressy guise  

or shorts, his social alter ego who charmed


him into cruises, Paris trips, and turning

our mother's house into a faux confection

of French-ish gilt and gloss, adroitly telling

us that she owned the bulk of his affection.


She was Little Tessie, not to be surpassed.

If not his first love, she was clearly his last.


In the Hours Before He Dies


Mary still calls him "darlin'," even when he

can't reply, or in any way respond.

"It's time to turn you over now, darlin'," she

says, like clockwork through the day and on


into the night. For months, she's bathed, brushed,

shaved, dressed and undressed him without me

while he charmed or raved, my proxy blessed

with a mission. "Girl, we gotta' be gutsy


'cause this is hard," she tells me now, awash

in unshed tears. In two more hours, back

she'll come with laundered sheets and her panache

restored, and I'll thank my luck. She's got a knack


for love, this one, and the right to reach him.

"Hey, darlin'," she'll say, "hey, daddykins."


For Richard and Brad, Who Couldn't Be There


After days of stupor he awoke

and, wide-eyed, seemed to be tracking something,

or someone, through the room. Then he choked,

inhaled, exhaled, and passed, with us clinging


to what the two of you have clung to since:

that it was our mother who'd come for him.

I'd gladly accept that now, but like him, wince

at such easy assumptions. Later, when Kim,


Shirley, and I, began to wash his body,

there was a sort of peace I hadn't expected.

For days, I've wracked my brain for an elegy

worthy of him, but find myself distracted.


I can only say with certainty that he remains

here in the present tense, his legerdemain.


Myrna Stone is the author of four full-length books of poetry: In the Present Tense: Portraits of My Father, due out this spring
; The Casanova Chronicles, which was a Finalist for the 2011 Ohioana Book Award in Poetry; How Else to Love the World; and The Art of Loss, for which she was named 2001 Ohio Poet of the Year. Her poems have appeared in many journals, including Poetry, TriQuarterly, Boulevard, River Styx, Ploughshares, Nimrod, and Boston Review.  She lives in Greenville, Ohio, with her husband in an 18th century house.



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