Saturday, March 14, 2009

Honoring my father

I have a lot of "thank you" notes to send out to everyone who shared their time, comfort and care with me and my family today and for all the days we have been working through this.

It's still hard for me to fathom not having another talk with my father, another round of argument and rebuttal. We could be at adverse odds over the simplest things sometimes.

What follows is an excerpt from the reflection I wrote and read aloud at his funeral:

"Sidney Herman Ruth and I are alike in a lot of ways. We are both strong-willed, determined men who at times should have just listened to my mother, the peacemaker.

I had the pleasure of talking with my father at length about a year ago, asking him questions for about two to three hours about things we had not discussed before: Where he grew up, what life was like when he was younger...

He described to me Newark during an era when horse-drawn wagons delivered fruits and vegetables to the neighborhood.

But my favorite story is how my parents met. They first saw each other at a bus station in Newark. By my father's telling, my mother started asking their mutual friends about him. But according to my mother's version of the tale, HE was the one asking about her.

It doesn't matter in the end who chased whom. Through my parents came me, my sisters and their grandchildren after.

Rutger, Justin, Joshua: I charge you to look after each other with the same love and intensity as my father and his siblings looked after each other. I, Joao-Pierre, son of Sidney and Anita, will hold you to your word as he would."

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Flame and Bone

When I was made from fire
Poured into the tender vessel of caution
That keeps my smoke from rising
Quickly did I discover that apart from crisp drizzles or falling snow
The world chilled my touched
Walking the narrow cornered gap between girders and cut stone
One learns to tuck his shoulders in or risk
Jostling a neighbor passing by rapt with want
For a clear path without the distraction
Of another man's boiling eyes
The tip of a finger
That oldest of all weapons
Grown deadlier and pristine in its invention
Gathers a mote of a cinder on its bare flesh
And turns pondering how best to scratch the impious itch
Prying open the tender seam
Where the oil of thought dews
Offering a new wick to ignite
Squirming alive as a salamander of mischief
That yearns for a taste of air it is so ready to devour
The steam of breath betrays me
Before the glint of orange spreads
In popping bright waves
Eroding the fibers feeding it
Leaving naught but ash
As my shell of quietude falls away