4. Releasing the Earth Trout, poems for my Dad



Went to the hospital, saw

his limbs like smooth branches,

crepe myrtle, lying there

gathering himself, gathering strength,

offering questions:

Did we drive the convertible?

Are we going home tonight?

Where am I?

like pink petals



Later we went to a club

Reggae Lounge

gut-filling bass

shook the leaves off

and settled the jerk chicken.

We hugged and danced

and watched the reggae man

bouncing up the mountain

against the arc

of his fluttering dreadlocks.








There’s a checkerboard of patio,

stones set inches apart, the gaps filled

with gravel.  Over

months the leaves’ve melted

into the gravel, thought I’d

clean them out, digging up the rock

slurry and washing out the leaves

with a strong hose.


Each year weeds come up

between the pavers — if not chopped

back regular the stalks go

head high — it’s a lot of work.

I give it the poison.  The right way

to do it would be to take up the big

square stones, clean

and white and heavy, and lay down

10 mil black plastic.


Whoever built the patio didn’t

build it that way.  I can hear

my Dad telling me how it needs to

be done, Do it right, he says.

He knows his son.

But he is tired now,

fading quiet, possibly doesn’t even

feel that way any more, no matter.  I’m

not lifting those stones

for the sake of weeds

that come every year.








I was over at the house putting

up a screen, had to cut some

wood for a frame.  Dad sat

and watched me work.

He’d bought the hardware cloth,

asked me to put it up, trusting

I’d do the whole project

the right way or good enough.  He

doesn’t see the details

any more.


Afterward we sat and talked,

I’m going up to the river,

I said, With Joe Conti, remember

him?  Sure I do,

he said, We argued about which pan

was big enough for the


I’d forgotten the whole scene,

it was years ago,

dinner at the fishing cabin.


What I remember was coming round

a bend in the river.  It

was a beautiful afternoon at the Arc.

My Dad was stretched out,

his hat over his face,

sleeping in the short grass back

from the bank,

close enough to hear the water.








My sister and I did yardwork Saturday.

She pulled out the tomato and nasubi,

Japanese eggplant that didn’t thrive

last season.  I pulled out the dead rafis

palms that didn’t get enough water.  These

are things Dad did but hasn’t the life left

to continue.  We worked in silence mostly.

It was good work and the yard looks good.


Later at dinner he told us he was thinking

he would stop going to kidney dialysis.

My brother was stunned.  He asked, Do you know

what that means?  Dad said, Yeah. You die.

I was in awe of his courage, though perhaps

there’s a better word, if so it lies beyond me,

in the haze of my own destiny.


We talked for a long time, making plans

for trips to take, one last time, though

I doubt he is up to it.  Maybe it doesn’t matter.

When Mom said he couldn’t go to the mountains

because the altitude would kill him he looked

up and smiled, Well, that would solve my problem.








Over at the house we talked.

He wants to go, the treatments are keeping

him alive, no more than that.

If not for Mom he’d be long ago gone.

I already talked to the kidney specialist:

no suffering, only difficulty breathing — that

to me, an asthmatic, sounds

terrifying enough, but not

like the endless treatments leading toward

full helplessness … he wants his reward.

He can already see the light.

He is halfway there on his own and only

hangs around for the family

and the right moment.


I will ask him if he’d like to see

some old friends.  It’s strange to feel this fear,

this wonder, that life may return, or else

heartbreak, seeing his old buddies, the ones

that faced what he faced in life, soon to face

what he faces now … is it

cruel to stir the memories?  I don’t

know.  It’s not

my death.  I will ask.


Then there’s the arrangements.  The old

reverend is long passed, the new one I never

felt for, who will say

the words?  I am an old pagan, a Buddhist,

a Christian, a nothing.  The trees

are fuzzy with blooms, light green with new leaves.

On Tuesday I will get a haircut.

Everything else can wait.








He’s been off dialysis 4 days.

Mom is out opening a checking account in her name only.

He is resting in bed.

I asked him what he is thinking about, he said, Nothing.

Last night I told him he’s been a great father but mostly

we talked about fishing trips,

the big salmon he caught at the wide bend on Haida Gwaii —

that brought a smile to him —

and the golden trout we hiked after —

that was a year after the bypass when he nearly

died on the golf course.  He’s caught

all the fish he wanted

so it’s okay to leave the river

to the sun and rocks,

the bugs and crows, hatches so profuse you’ll breathe one in

if you’re not careful,

the weedbeds trailing pure as a beloved’s green hair, a slow

tailing of fishy water,

and mostly the flashes of silver or gold against the far

green.  I told him I’d catch fish

with his old cane rod but I think he doesn’t care.  He’s walking

the bank of a stream I’ve never fished,

seeing flashes in water I’ve never touched.








I woke with my beloved, she kissed me.

I went to the kitchen,

hello to sisters, all living for now under the

same roof like childhood,

some toast and moldy jam.  Tennis,

an exciting match, just stroke production,

the game is inside after all.

Home and lunch, slept fitfully after,

hung out with Dad and the family —

what else does life consist of … oh

I suppose some birthday genie

could run a cold stream through the house,

down the stairs and out to the yard,

let the day be of bright sunlight and cold air,

let the trout flash brilliant and golden,

let my father have another day

on the river.








The air has run perfumed and glorious these two weeks.

It enters my lungs, expands,

it tires me with life, that and the death watch.

He is shrinking, his bony

knees, his skin is emptying, the old warrior,

he does not rally to the recent

good spring come upon us, the red dirt does not inspire

planting, the open road has not lured him campaigning, the clear

runoff, the buzzing hatches, he is not oiling

his reel, cleaning his line —

this, my friend, is the shrinking. It comes

after you have lived with a woman

or cast bread and watched it float away

because you did

the best you could and got no laughs

till you found Pancho.

I’m not him. I got my own shrinking to deal with,

Please write me.  Tell me your adventures,

your loves, your small objects, the vehicles you’ve had.

Be a good writer.

Let us hear what has not shrunk.

It’s just play, all these things we sought and that sought us,

that were meant to build us up and sometimes

did and sometimes didn’t.  We are left either way

looking foolish.  That is fitting, that

is the life for a man shrinking:

to honor the grave foolishness that animates us, lest our anger

dishonor those who went before us,

who disappeared into the ballooning










It’s finally March, the wind has left us teary-

eyed, the sun is cold and too

bright.  My father is not in pain.

Those around him struggle with the waiting.

The big oleander shakes in the wind.

My father does not shake.  The pills have calmed him.

I am told there may be a final

exclamation, though

what, who knows.

Perhaps some instruction about a project.

Scout around for the needle-nose pliers, son,

you need to build it in layers.  Nobody

will know what he’s talking about.

I’d rather he tell us what he sees:

the colors beyond imagining,

the music unlike the earthly, so clear, so heady,

the smell of flowers undiscovered,

the taste of fruit that doesn’t grow from earth,

the touch of something familiar, home,

a place you never knew you left and missed so deeply, that

opened your emptiness and filled it with tears of homecoming.

Most likely he won’t say

these things.  They’re not the kind of thing

easily said while dying.

By then he won’t know he’s Ed Okuno.

He will have passed to the other side.

We’ll have to find out for ourselves.

In the meantime we take the bitter and the sweet,

know we are precious fools

to play out the gift

and be gentle with each day.








The old Aussie song is waltzing through

me and my remembering.  His waltzing

days are over, there’s nothing

but the smell of the dance. We still

talk story by his bed.  We want to give him

something to let go of.  The music

is classical, the radio scratchy.  I don’t

know where Matilda came from, I wonder

about that.  Is that you Dad?

Are you already on your walkabout, so

far from us we can’t

see you dancing?









It’s taking longer than he thought, his

dying.  He said so himself.

I had thought he was so tired

the thumping of the staff would be welcome.

Now I see, the whirlwind is not so easy

to leave.  Your old friends

have come to see you, you are surrounded

by grandchildren, your son sits by your bed

and sketches his rock garden, your daughters

rub your neck and feet, your wife remembers

when you first came calling as a young man, your

friend remembers your baptism

down by the river — all this

for you, old man.  We are eating

and drinking, laughing and crying,

telling stories and thinking of our own deaths,

scared and grateful, having moments

with you and each other.

Some of us have come that hardly showed

before, thinking it’s safe now,

what does it matter? he hardly knows us.

Whether we come for you

or for us, it doesn’t matter, it’s nearly over.

We’re having a drink on you, Dad,

and I know you’re okay with that

because the earth is cold, no

hurry, really.  No matter when the world ends.

It’s your party.









The first

poem this Spring

drips on ashes.

They have burned

off the flesh.  Before that I lifted

his stiff body for the damn bureaucrats,

and earlier felt his heat fading

but no breath.


he is somewhere else.  I wonder,

does grass come up

in Spring

where there is no

earth?  Let him

have his garden, let him

plant his tomatoes and nasubi.

He would’ve planted by now.

He is late this season.

We did not

let him go

so easily.









On Saturday some friends

are coming over to set rocks, boulders

really, the largest over a ton,

a garden:

rocks and water and trees.

Once they are set in the ground

they will stay a hundred years, the big ones,

see a hundred springs

while the plum trees flower, fill out in the heat,

and droop heavy with fruit till the rotting

each summer.  Then the great plane

trees will drop leaves till only

the biggest boulders show out, like

islands.  Ah, I know


it’s a flicker of time, a hundred

years, but these rocks were not planted to outlast God

or the life or death of man.

They will outlast me and my friends,

that is enough.


So we will

laugh free and easy

as we gather up, my gang

and me, standing in the smoke of burning daylight,

drinking to our sweetness,

having put out these guardians:

wanderers, pagans, dreadnaughts,

these stones.


They will outlast me and my friends,

that is enough.  They will outlast our

time in this beauty.  Anger won’t

etch them nor jokes blister.  They will outlast

our hearts breaking.









Would’ve turned 81, not

so old, a month vaporized

to perfect energy.

Around the yard

you are a wisp

of smoke but the rocks

are growing roots,

a wall has risen,

a stream has cut itself

out of the lawn,

instead of bricks for path

we’ve made a water path

not running trout they

need the cold

and pure streams but koi

are carp you know

tough like crows

pretty as goldens

a better choice

for the clutter

that’s come unsewn.









He lived as long as the

water flowed

through the canals

and when the sponge would no

longer breathe,

its gills tired, they

tried the machine.

No, he wasn’t meant to live

that way, the water

was free flowing

through his body,

the damn steel

and tubing

was no brook

for a old trouter.









Spring’s been taken

up like wild horses.

We eat the last of the trampled













The stream is completed.

It runs through the yard

and spreads water direct

to the springy dirt.  Unlike other

streams, this one was built

from grief.  I

have finally tired of building.


Time floods me.

It’s time we only sit and listen.

Listening honors

the lovely riffle.

It’s time we only sit and listen

for the movement

of whatever moves in the stream

that is not water.

I go senseless with love

when the moment blazes.




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