After last week’s blog, a few readers emailed to ask why I don’t write more about my father.  My dad died less than a year ago and some days it’s still too raw.  The last 14 years of his life he spent unable to speak or walk and though he managed much on his own, he was dependent on others to help him shower and shave and wipe his own bottom.

Growing up, he was as unlike my mother as possible.  While I can only remember a handful of times my mother hugged me, Dad more than made up for it.  He was an overbearing Italian father (redundant?) with 4 sons and me.  Until I hit puberty, I was ‘angel dust from Heaven’.  Post puberty, he did everything in his power to keep me in line and trouble-free, which as we all know…generally sends a person in the other direction.

Dad was typically a positive thinker with a penchant for ‘always having the absolute answer’… whether you wanted to hear it or not.  As a young girl I loved him fiercely and as an adult I’ve spent a significant amount of writing time poking around in the still-burning embers of our relationship.

At an open mic years ago, an older gentleman told me I was “in a rut, just like that Sharon Olds poet.” I love her work and took it as a compliment…though I understood where he was coming from.


I am clipping my father’s fingernails.
I sit on his wheelchair
close to the bed,
turn his hand toward the fluorescent light,
careful not to give him reason
to pull away.

I always do his toenails first,
clean and moisturize the flaky skin.
I am not sure
how all this became my job,
but he allows no one else
to do it.

Holding his hand,
I trim each translucent sliver,
wash away brownish food
trapped beneath,
then file the ragged edge,
sharp as a broken sea shell.

As I work, I talk –
telling him only
about the good in my life,
the lives of my children.
He listens and nods,
our masks in place.

Before, when he could talk
he’d have interrupted a hundred times –
probing too deep,
giving unwanted advice.
How many times
did I wish him quiet?

Now, he is silent and watchful.
Each time I look up from his hand
his foggy eyes study me,
intent on my face.
It feels as if we are tethered,
dangling over something vast.

Trimming the nails on his paralyzed side
I must lean over,
gently draw the arm towards me.
This is an awkward position
for both of us
and I pull up to breathe.

Uncurling his long index finger
I expect resistance –
a pointed accusation or denial,
but there is give,
a letting go.
I wonder how this makes him feel.

And the nails
I’d have expected
to be brittle,
instead are porous
and the clipper cuts
as if through sponge.

Bending down,
I am so close to my father
I feel his breath on my cheek,
smell the creamed meat
he ate for lunch,
the powdered potatoes.

Holding his hand in mine
I remember Mom’s pasta,
her Sunday dinners,
family seated around the table waiting
for my father to take the first bite.
I have been here many times before

and there is nothing new to find.
Silently, from above
he treads water,
has been there my whole life,
wills me to the murky surface.
I break through

sputtering, spit
tendrils of seaweed,
wipe salt from my eyes
and for a moment, cling.
His hand still, so large
in mine.

Be good to yourself…


About hereisakiss

Daughter Writer Art's Educator
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6 Responses to Dad

  1. Laura says:

    Elizabeth, I was in tears upon reading this post with your profoundly intimate poem. Every third day I affix a Fentynl pain patch to my Dad’s back. On the days that my compassion for him is strong I offer to apply the much needed soothing balm of hand lotion too. As if a thin pair of latex gloves will prevent me from really ‘touching’ him, I use the gloves, nevertheless. Touch and my Dad are volitile issues. They require the insane split that must occur in me if I am to be his daily caretaker. It is a difficult journey . . . perhaps for us both.

    • hereisakiss says:

      The insane split…wow! Do you think part of the ‘insanity’ may have to do with taking care of our parents so intimately. We expect to do that for our children, our spouses, close friends…but maybe not so for our parents. Yet, so many of us do.

  2. Gary Glazner says:

    Fantastic poem!

  3. Susan Marie Powers says:

    Lovely poem, amazing insights!

  4. Jan says:

    Elizabeth – This very private poem about your dad brought tears to my eyes too. It brought back so many memories of moments, days, weeks, months, years that I spent helping to care for my dad. I so remember holding his hands and clipping his nails while he would sit and just watch me. As you say, it’s almost too painful to remember – yet so beautiful. Even though it hurts deep inside, thank you for sharing with all of us.

    Love you and David

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