Author’s Note: The shock of a parent’s death, the first moments of grief, can trigger very specific memories. Here I remembered the way my father’s hands looked, both alive and dead. My memories clustered around him in the funeral home when I arrived after my journey home, him at work as a hobbyist on his days off. Questions came to mind: the impatient questions of childhood, the unanswerable questions that come to us in the solemn presence of death.
I drove all night to get there,
but I got there too late.
When I made the undertaker open the coffin,
there Daddy lay,
hands folded across his chest.
I hadn’t noticed before
how ridged his nails were.
Even in death
his hands looked intent and purposeful.
In his woodshop on Saturdays
my father thought with his hands—
angling a design on the jigsaw,
marking inches off on a board.
He handled wood like I imagine Dürer did
when he cut lines into a block of applewood
for one of his prints,
and then there’s a horse running, or a king
or a rabbit, or the vacant eyes
of death on a starveling apocalyptic horse.
As a boy I’d stand beside him, barely able to see
over the top of the workbench, asking my questions.
How old would I have to be to drive the car?
When would he let me shoot the .22?
Half listening, intent on the task at hand,
“All in good time,” he would say.
“All in good time.”
As I looked down at him
that morning I speak of,
the questions I asked were different—
questions no one but the dead could answer.
Richard Tillinghast grew up in Memphis and was educated at Sewanee (University of the South) and Harvard. The prize-winning author of many books of poetry and creative nonfiction, this summer he published Blue If Only I Could Tell You, his thirteenth collection of poems. His literary travel books include Finding Ireland and Istanbul: City of Forgetting and Remembering. He lives in Hawaii and spends summers in Sewanee, Tennessee.
Delmarva Review publishes evocative new poetry, fiction, and nonfiction selected from thousands of submissions annually. Designed to encourage outstanding writing, the literary journal is nonprofit and independent. Financial support comes from sales, tax-deductible contributions, and a grant from the Talbot Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. Website: DelmarvaReview.org.