To a Dead Father

by Judy Kaber
The Waters
Second Place, September 2014
Judged by Suzanne Lummis

Some say there’s a lock on heaven’s gate
yet I see your face, spackled with sun, lean

out over the jutting sky, still looking like
you expect a clean swept porch, a pattern

on the dishes of bouquets of flowers.
Don’t slum, don’t come any closer.

Flecks of paint accent fingers, acrylic splatters
circle wrists. Dirt here is a household word.

Remember the trek up from New York?
The impact of lightless roads at night?

A vacation spent staring at the backs
of tractors groaning in the fields, riding

thick humps through plaited green. Nice
gesture, but you couldn’t fake consent,

contentment. Clench tight your teeth.
Too many slanted floors, unpainted

doors. An outhouse. A hole in the wall.
So far from suburbia the accent’s a fact

that smacks you in the ear. Does
the New York Daily News land flat

on your golden doorstep? Is there
a janitor to arrest the creeping scum?

Don’t strain your reedy neck, intent
on one last inspection. I still eat toast

and jam, ignore the crumbs. And, out
of spite, each morning unmake my bed.

Here, finally, is a poet with an ear--I say "finally" because these days most poets don't make use of sound as an element in their poems. This one folds in assonance (gate/face, impact/backs/tractor), the rat-tat-tat of plossive final consonants (consent/fact/flat), and internal rhyme and slant rhyme.

This profile suggests a personality whose intolerance of dirt and disorder seems -- in this telling -- almost life denying. Though the poet threatens a messiness so as to spite the obsessively tidy late father, the play of revolving sounds, as well as the clean strokes of the couplets, create a clipped, knowing, orderly effect. And that's just as well -- a writer couldn't achieve such an effective, stinging critique with a haphazard, messy poem. --Suzanne Lummis