REGGAE SATURDAY NIGHT
Went to the hospital, saw
his limbs like smooth branches,
crepe myrtle, lying there
gathering himself, gathering strength,
Did we drive the convertible?
Are we going home tonight?
Where am I?
like pink petals
Later we went to a club
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
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
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.
FIRST POEM TO SPRING
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
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
HUNDRED YEAR STONES
On Saturday some friends
are coming over to set rocks, boulders
really, the largest over a ton,
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,
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
through the canals
and when the sponge would no
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
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.
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.