One of My Life’s Lower Strata…

“Don’t make the joke. Don’t. Purloin is not a steak made from the side of a cat.”


“Not even funny.”

Now the prompt is out of the way… 😉

My old speech stays in a black leather notebook my dad gave me in the sixties when I started writing poetry. I don’t know when or where the notebook entered my dad’s life, but I’ve had it since, I imagine, 1964. The very first poem I wrote (on a typewriter) is in here. It’s a paean to nature (big surprise). The Rod McKuenesque love poems I wrote in high school are also here. The poems that so impressed my middle-aged college poetry instructor (so much so that he tried to kiss me) are in here.

There are love letters. A few letters from students. A letter from my best high school friend (with a poem). Seems like we were all poetry crazed back then.

There are two poems by my dad.

One of them he wrote by hand when he was in the hospital getting ACTH treatments for MS. I guess my mom had been there most of the day. I must’ve finally gotten my drivers license because I was there alone with my dad. He handed me a paper. “Can you type this for me? It’s a poem.”

I read my dad’s tight almost illegible scrawl. His hands were not responsive to his will any more because of the MS, but I was used to that and used to his distorted speech, so used to it that I don’t think I even noticed it. “Read it to me,” he said.

At sixteen I only fully understood some of what my dad had written. It takes maturity, heart-breaking disappointments and extinguished hopes to get all of it. But it was a poem about his marriage and his family. He evoked a few beautiful memories. He ended it with a call to action — to my mom! — that maybe they could resurrect their original love and continue onwards.

Well, they fought a lot and had for several years. My mom’s only outlet for her anger was the people in her family.

It was a very sad poem. That much I got at 16.

“Don’t let your mother see it,” he said. “I’ll give it to her when the time is right.”

I am not sure, but I don’t think my mom ever saw it.

Another poem by my dad had been hidden in this notebook for at least fifty — but possibly sixty — years. I found it a few years ago when I had the idea that I would throw out all my journals and attendant embarrassing and bad writing. I thumbed through the back pages of the notebook, empty sheets I had never examined, and there I found a poem in my dad’s writing, a song. As a poem it’s pretty bad, but it was a very sweet discovery.

My dad really wanted to be a poet. His hero was Omar Khayyam who was both a mathematician and a poet. My dad had the mathematics part going, but the poetry part? I’m not sure quality counts as much as the writing. There is a flip-cartoon my brother must have drawn when he was 10 and some other random bits of a long-ago life. It’s a pretty cool artifact.

20 thoughts on “One of My Life’s Lower Strata…

  1. Oh Martha, this is so touching. I read it with a big lump in my throat. After our conversations about our respective dads recently it was lovely to read more of yours and his poetry. His shaky writing and his deterioration into MS reminds me of my dad and his Parkinsons. My dad was no poet though, and he found it hard to express his feelings, but he felt emotion very deeply. It must be both a comfort and heart-breaking to have those wonderful creations of his to keep and remember him by. A book of precious treasures indeed, each with its own special story. ❤

    • We’re lucky we had role models like our dad’s even though we were NOT lucky to lose them. I think I got a lot of courage and resilience from the years I had him as a friend and guide. I’m sure I wouldn’t be here now if it hadn’t been for him — well, in more than one way, I mean 😉

      • You’re right, Martha. I hadn’t really thought of resilience and courage in that way, but I think my dad and his brave fight against his illness gave me those qualities too. And a sense of determination and adventure, and not wasting opportunities. We’ve learned a lot from our dads, and yes, we were lucky to have them. 🙂

  2. I hope you threw none of it away. It is impossible for me to throw writing away. I still have a stack of my husband’s journals I’ve been trying to burn fo 18 years.

    • It’s not easy even when you know that no one but you will ever be interested in them. I WILL throw them out, but not now. There is so much more to some of it than the words on the page. In the case of this little notebook, it seems to contain people I love in a time capsule from a moment in our lives when we were all together and the inevitable seemed — was — a long ways off. It’s very hard to let go of that. ❤

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