Driving My Father Through the End Times, a Sestina

For six months we drove to the clinic every day–
infusions to cleanse his septic blood.
Sometimes we’d stop for coffee along the way,

and I’d try to go inside the shop alone,
but he’d insist, he could walk on his own,
so I’d help him out the passenger seat and we’d shuffle

into QuickTrip, get donuts, too, then trudge
toward the clinic for the cure, a dose a day,
antibiotics for his heart that wouldn’t heal on its own.

He refused surgeries, transfusions of blood.
He even drove to church to do his prayer shift, alone
at two AM, a 24/7 adoration of the Virgin, his way

to ease the shame, I guess, maybe for his wayward
youth, he didn’t say. I’d chide him as we stepped
from car to curb, tell him not to drive alone,

to let the others pray for him this time, a daily
vision of healthy cells washing his blood.
Always the father, he never did listen or own

his eldest daughter had some sense of her own.
On these drives we’d talk politics and the way
the country was heading, the bad blood,

the fear one candidate stoked, but walking
was painful, and he grew weaker by the day.
He watched the news from his recliner when he was alone,

but he didn’t live to hear the words I alone
can fix it. He believed what he saw with his own
two eyes on cable news, the lies they spun every day.

He wouldn’t have it when I said propaganda was their way.
I tried to show him how they twisted the truth, stomped
all over the facts. But his kidneys were failing, his blood

ever thinner. In the end, all that mattered was blood
relations, forgiveness, love. In hospice, I left him alone
the night before he died. Still thought he’d walk

out of that place. The nurse said he was afraid on his own
in the dark. Even with opiates, he couldn’t find a way to sleep.
He asked for me. I drove right over. He stopped breathing that day.

There was a blood moon, auger of end times, in the days
before his death, a lone orb pointing the way,
an opening of sorts, a door for him to slip through, quite easily, on his own.


I wrote this poem last year and was thinking of including it as part of a manuscript I’m working on, but it doesn’t quite fit the project.

My father died in the spring of 2016, right after the Republican primaries. He was still following politics up until maybe the last month of his life. When the primaries came around, he was too sick to think about voting.

He watched cable news quite a bit when his decline set in, although he read a lot, too. When I told him that Fox News was biased and prone to hyperbole if not outright lies, he downplayed it and said, “Oh, they can’t do that, they have to report the facts.”

My father was an old school, corporate conservative who saw the Republican Party as the party of wealth and prosperity. His parents, my grandparents, were blue collar union workers from PA who always voted Democrat.

I think he wanted to be different from his father, who did not receive any schooling after eighth grade.

I’m sharing this poem now because of the recent red moon we just experienced, and also just because I want to.

Sestina spiral.

Getty Images, Allure Magainehttps://www.allure.com/story/super-blood-wolf-moon-january-2019

Animal Parlor Games

When I was in high school in the late seventies, I had a friend I’ll call Jen whose parents were divorced. I’d spend the night at her house from time to time, or visit her after school.

Her mother, who I’ll call Janice, promoted the idea that she was a sophisticated woman, although even at 17 I could tell her glamor was from a bygone era or from a world apart from the one I inhabited. Janice’s hair was bleached to perdition, and she wore it in a teased, flimsy up-do with gaps I could see through from certain angles. She was extra tan from playing tennis under a flaming Atlanta sun. Jen said, “My mom is so lucky. She gets tan without trying, even through her bra.”

Janice chain-smoked Virginia Slims. Jen and I would drive aimlessly along winding two-lane roads in Janice’s Cadillac, listening to her eight-track tapes of Neil Diamond and smoking the cigarettes we found in the glove compartment.

If Janice went out on a Saturday night she could be counted on not to come home until two or three in the morning. It was the era of discos and swingers, and Janice participated enthusiastically. Jen would invite a group of us over to drink beer and maybe fool around. If our beer ran out we’d raid Janice’s liquor cabinet. Jen knew how to make whiskey sours and tequila sunrises, those yummy sweet drinks that don’t taste too strongly of alcohol. Once I puked my guts out in an aluminum garbage can behind the house. Another time I blacked out.

Janice played a game which involved assigning animal species to people. She said, “Every person has an animal group they belong to. Most people are either birds, dogs, or horses.” And within a certain genus, she would even single out the species.

Janice labeled her daughter Jen a quail, and truth be told, she was spot on. Jen had a wide, long, face and a smooth, plump body that rode low to the ground, somewhat bottom heavy, but she was also a small person.

She said I was a robin. I have large, dark eyes, long black hair, a small mouth, pointed chin and nose. After she told me I was a robin, I felt like one, though it’s hard to be objective enough about myself to know if Janice had pinpointed the right species for me.

Secretly I was glad, and felt sorry for Jen. Quails seemed ponderous, not spry and nimble like the robin. And the quail’s plumage was muted, no red breast to boast of.

I think Jen was sad about her quail status too. She bought into her mother’s self-styled glamor girl image, really believed Janice was a foxy man-magnet, a superior woman.

The last I heard about their family, Janice had died of lung cancer, and Jen was in LA, homeless and in debt after losing her job as the head buyer of a large department store chain. Maybe she never got over how her mother placed her in a homely bird group. Who knows, she might have really been a bird of paradise, or a condor.