The First Time I Drank With My Father

by Ken Ashworth
The Waters
First Place, July 2018
Judged by Kathleen Hellen


Nurses wash you with long hair
trailing over ribs and rigging,
faint blue outline
of a Spanish tri-master
on custard colored skin.

In the Liberation of ’44
you sailed the Champs-Élysées
with the swagger of conquest.

Women jostled to be first
to touch your face,
kiss your hand,
litter your path with flowers.

Now you’ve pissed yourself again.

I give my name to the night clerk,
fresh bed clothes to orderlies,

I side-step through piles
of soiled linen.

Fetid air masks
the two shots and a beer
it takes to be the last
of your sons to come.


In this carefully crafted poem, a delicate tension exists between the past and present, the beginning and end---between a father and son. Between the title---“First Time I Drank With My Father”--- and the heartbreaking closure (“the last/ of your sons to come), the poet delivers with skill and restraint the details of a life lived to the full (“sailed,” “jostled”) and its debilitation with aging (“orderlies” and “soiled linen”). --Kathleen Hellen

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