You will excuse me if I step away from Moby-Dick for this post. Today would have been my father's 91st birthday. Last year, on this day, we had a huge birthday party for him. Relatives drove in from out of town. My dad's sister was there. They hadn't seen each other for a few years. He was smiling more that day than I'd seen him smile in a long time.
So, this evening, I give you a poem that I wrote for my father.
Saint Marty wishes his dad a happy birthday.
The Quiet Man
by: Martin Achatz
Last night, I dreamed my dad and John Wayne
were sitting around a campfire, eating
peaches out of a can. Stars thick as cattle herds
milled above them, and the prairie grass
hummed some sweet old song like "Red River Valley"
or "Shenandoah." I'm not sure if was heaven,
but my father was young and perfect, the hook
of his back as straight as a railroad spike.
Duke was young, too, the retired prizefighter
who chased Maureen O'Hara through the green
Galway countryside. There weren't any Nazis
crawling along the ground in ambush, no
Richard Boone-faced kidnappers, skin
leathery as buffalo jerky, trying to steal
their sleeping horses. I'm not sure
if you can smell in dreams, but I remember
smelling manure and smoke and something else.
Maybe the coming of rain. My dad and Duke
didn't talk, just forked golden crescents
into their mouths, looking as if they were eating
solar eclipse after solar eclipse. Their forks
made hollow cowbell noises in the dark.
When they were done, they tipped the cans
to their lips, drank the syrup inside
until it ran down their chins. I kept
waiting for something more to happen,
a runaway stagecoach to crash through
or a baby elephant nosing for hay.
Instead, my dad took a deck of cards
from his pocket, started dealing.
They played gin rummy, hand after hand.
My dad let John Wayne win, because he was
John Wayne and because that's what
my dad did every morning with my mother
for years and years. He did it because
it was a habit of love. Maybe that's the name
of this movie: Habit of Love. It starts out
simply enough. Two cards. Dealt face up.
The king and queen of hearts.