By Pat Murphy McClelland
In the last six months of World War II
Army men with shaved heads
knock on the door
of our house filled with shadow.
My father strides down
a long thin brown hall.
I trail him toward sun glare
on beveled glass, prisms dancing
diamonds on his blinding white shirt
shining his curly hair to jet stone.
I am four, oldest daughter
middle child among the five.
In no time at all
save for his voice
he sometimes sends
on glistening black
vinyl circles we play on
our hand-cranked phonograph
worn needle skipping grooves.
Beneath the crackle, the sound
of him is faint: “Tell mom
to set your hair in ringlets
we have a date when I get home.”
In the box with his voice
comes a pink satin pillow
for mom, fringed in coral
Camp Le Jeune sewn in blue
gray-green tanks for sons
toy guns spinning
hunting down the enemy
for me a gypsy doll
in red with black lace
long wavy raven hair
shiny eyes that blink
with pointy breasts
that fascinate my friends.
At the end of year ten
of college my father stands
alone at my commencement.
My mother called in sick.
Hair now pewter gray
shades hiding hazel eyes
he sports a Christmas gift
tie, gaudy silk that argues with
his green plaid coat. Shocking
it was, his showing up
to see me finish, convinced
as he was, I never would
which drove me to it.
Through a quick dark cloud
of tossed caps and gowns
I watch my father make his way
across the campus lawn, veiled
in a blue haze of Camel smoke.
I feel his prim hug withholding
love, words do not occur to him.
I search his face for the fleet
inconspicuous tics that hide
love and pride in Irish men.
Back home, he decants champagne
calls to mom hiding out in bed –
she declines to join the celebration.
He makes a toast to my ambition.
Alcohol ends his silence and ravels
reticence that always makes me cross
the line to inference. He hands me
on the sly an unsigned Hallmark card
nods toward a pile of silver ribbon
and scarlet tissue in the dining room.
“A present,” he says with an air
of diffidence, “I found it at a pawn shop.”
His gift stunned – a primo classic
besting his inspired 1940s
avant-garde prototype of Barbie –
a pebbled leaden gray 1954
Royal typewriter with glossy
green, white lettered keys
that clacked staccato harmony
on onion skin with carbons
in between, that inscribed
my young and deathless prose
in black Times Roman, tipped with red.
Until I lost it in a move.
Despite his flair for choosing presents
my censored father stayed a mystery
until the day he died, a vet run down
against his will in a military hospital
hair thin, long, white, stringy
beard matted, bony arms poking
through the open spaces
of flimsy gowns and blankets
his face a lighter shade
of the pea green concrete wall.
Hard to please right up to the end
he spurns my goodbye gift –
clam chowder, the New England kind
memory thought he’d like.
“Too sweet,” he gripes.
The final iteration
of a lifelong point of view.
Pat Murphy McClelland is a native of New England and a California transplant. Her
poems appear in: Chronicles of Eve (Paper Swans Press, 2016); Caravel Literary Arts Journal;
Snapdragon Literary Journal; ARAS Connections: Image and Archetype; Altadena Poetry Review; Feile-Festa Literary Journal; Atlas Poetica; and a chapbook, Turnings. She has published several
children’s books, and taught creative writing workshops in LA and “Writing for Healing”
at the UC/SF Comprehensive Cancer Center. Long-time passing, she has been revising a
memoir, “The Masks of Grief.”