Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Daughters and Fathers

A Visitor | Mary Oliver

This haunting poem by Mary Oliver comes from a 1986 collection called Dream Work. My comments follow.

A Visitor

My father, for example,
who was young once
and blue-eyed,
returns
on the darkest of nights
to the porch and knocks
wildly at the door,
and if I answer
I must be prepared
for his waxy face,
for his lower lip
swollen with bitterness.
And so, for a long time,
I did not answer,
but slept fitfully
between his hours of rapping.
But finally there came the night
when I rose out of my sheets
and stumbled down the hall.
The door fell open

and I knew I was saved
and could bear him,
pathetic and hollow,
with even the least of his dreams
frozen inside him,
and the meanness gone.
And I greeted him and asked him
into the house,
and lit the lamp,
and looked into his blank eyes
in which at last
I saw what a child must love,
I saw what love might have done
had we loved in time.

c. 1992, Mary Oliver
New and Selected Poems, Volume One, pp. 116-117
Published by Beacon Press

Mary Oliver left home early in life to get away from an abusive situation. Now, years later, wild knocking in the dark of night reminds her of what she ran away from. If she opens the door, she must confront the man she remembers having a “waxy face” and “a lower lip swollen with bitterness.”

She ignores the pounding on the door. The knocking persists at all hours of the night. And so she “stumbles down the hall,” and the door “falls open.”

In an instant, Mary Oliver knows she has nothing to fear. In fact, it seems she’s surprised to discover her father is “pathetic and hollow.” Even his smallest dreams have frozen, and his meanness has vanished.

She greets him, invites him to come into her house, lights a lamp, looks into his “blank eyes” and sees what was needed when she was a child, plus what might have been “had we loved in time.”

The poem isn’t about Mary Oliver’s father; it’s about Mary. In the end, It affirms her decision to leave home, and acknowledges the high cost she and her father paid. With grief, and without apology.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 February 2020
Book cover image found at amazon.com

Complicity and Rotten Apples

For decades I’ve listened to well-meaning friends and strangers telling me to get over it. They weren’t always that blunt, but I knew what they meant. Something like this…magnified through my own shame-based filters:

It’s time to move on with your life. We’re tired of hearing about the same old struggle. When are you going to get a life? Can’t you see how easy it is?!

I don’t fault friends or strangers who’ve urged me to move on. They want the best for me. All I have to do is walk away and don’t look back. The way many of them did.

Yet it seems I have nothing to walk toward except more of those heart-breaking, mind-bending head trips I’ve been on all my life.

Besides, it doesn’t matter what others think about me. What do I think about myself?

From grade school on, academic pursuits were my salvation. They kept me busy. They gave me something tangible to hang onto, plus a fleeting sense of self-worth even though I was running away or lost. I’ve known this for years. Nothing new here.

Recently a friend of many years suggested I’m still complicit with my father’s shaming and silencing of my voice. It still eats me up, from the inside out. Like a rotten apple, it tries to spoil the entire barrel.

She was correct. The shamed-based atmosphere in which I grew up now lives in me, passed on by my father. I have no doubt this is a generational gift of poison.

So I’m back to my childhood with this correction: I did not have a childhood. It was stolen from me before I knew what was happening. Instead, I became a substitute mother (to my three sisters), and grew up labeled as a ‘rebellious, stubborn’ eldest daughter who needed to have anger beaten out of her.

Furthermore, though I enjoyed my children as they grew up, joining in their childhood games didn’t give me the childhood I never had.

So…how do I find what I didn’t have, and how do I stop my internal voice that wants to shame me into silence?

Meet Baby Elouise! No, I don’t have a picture. I bought her over a week ago. Why? Because I’m determined to find and take back what was stolen from me.

My job is to love and listen to the little girl and adult woman I am despite all efforts, including my own, to silence or redirect me. Baby Elouise is helping me move in the right direction.

To be continued….

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 August 2018
Photo taken by Sherry Fraser Seckington, June 2016 – from their garden

This is not a Dream | For my Readers

The Body Keeps the Score3

Seminary Land, 1990s. My faculty colleagues and I have been summoned to a meeting with the chair of the seminary board.

Recently we sent him a letter about a decision that will affect all of us. He didn’t appreciate our letter. Read the rest of this entry »

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