I don’t know how things were back then, but I like believing when they lifted me from the warm sea of my mother’s body, they tucked me right into your arms. I like thinking there was a small window of happiness for you and mother, before the tide turned and she slipped away.
I was born in Houston, a city tucked between two rivers and Galveston Bay. My earliest memories are of running to keep up with you in the foaming surf and you swinging me up high to ride in the crook of your arm when the big waves came.
I learned the art of storytelling listening to tall Texas tales while you shaved each morning. I smeared shaving cream on your face, molding it into peaks and valleys, a whitecap ocean for your razor to ride. Your stories always ended on a hook as you splashed after shave, the scent of citrus and cedar riding currents of moist air. We were both too young to envision a day when you couldn't shave yourself.
Galveston was one of the first songs I learned to play on the guitar, not because I liked it. I practiced for weeks as a birthday present to you, because you said it brought back memories of walking that beach with Mother. I didn't know then that a song could unreel memories like a movie on a screen, breathe life into the past, make it vivid enough to burn -- like a stitch in your side.
My memories unwind: you buckling me into an orange Mae West, me clinging tight to the splintery sides of a rowboat, watching you lean into the weight of wooden oars, the creak of metal oar locks, the chop and slap of the bay against the hull, the wind ruffling your hair like water, the first silver glistening like whitecaps on your curls. You loved watching birds in the wetlands, whispering their names, your voice reverent as if each was a prayer.
Losing you was a punch I saw coming from a long way off and it still knocked me flat. When grief shriveled me, I took to the water. I whispered the names of the birds when they took to the sky: blue heron, egret, osprey, eagle, king fisher. It wasn't the same without you.
The shoreline changes with every turn of the tide. One heartbeat fades into silence and a new heart picks up the tick of life. One winter carried you away and the next brought a new baby.
I don’t know what it’s like where you are. If you are. But I like to believe you watched when I first held your namesake, when I pressed my nose to downy hair, nuzzled a small cheek soft as breath. I like to think you were with us when, for just a moment, time turned back like the tide--the scent of citrus and cedar rode the air, and I heard waves kissing the shore in Galveston.
Happy birthday, Daddy.
The theme for this week's poetry potluck is: love and it's not being there. While this isn't so much about lovers, it's about finding healing and peace after losing someone important. It's still a work in progress. You can see what others have contributed to Poetry Potluck here.