This is the official blog of Northern Arizona slam poet Christopher Fox Graham. Begun in 2002, and transferred to blogspot in 2006, FoxTheBlog has recorded more than 423,000 hits since 2009. This blog cover's Graham's poetry, the Arizona poetry slam community and offers tips for slam poets from sources around the Internet. Read CFG's full biography here. Looking for just that one poem? You know the one ... click here to find it.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Slam Tutorial, Part VI, A Poem About Family

Round Two: A personal poem about family

We all have family. For some, family is a footnote. For others, family is the most important part of life. For people like me, we don't really know how important they are until their gone. Any audience member can appreciate that distinction.



We Call Him Papa
for Frank Leslie "Buster" Redfield
May 14, 1925 - Oct. 31, 2004

What makes this topic so important to me personally is that my grandfather and I shared 25 years on Earth, but I learned more about him in the last six hours we spent together talking, both knowing his cancer was terminal, than I did in the 25 years before those hours. The tragedy is that my grandfather had to die for me to truly understand what I had lost and what he meant to me. That lack of understanding for so long is the only sin in my life I truly regret.

we call him Papa
and he could move mountains with his silence

he fathered a family of artists
who knew the value of labor
the efficiency of expression
if it is unclear, rephrase it
if it is unusable, remove it
if it is imperfect, rework it
until it is as much a part of you
as a limb
he never said this
but his life implied it

his stone eyes
edited lies from our speech
before we could speak them
his hands held me tight once
after I sinned
they held me soft
when my father translated himself
into a mythology
I've since ceased believing in
his hands were the tools
with which he spoke through his silence

he carved and crafted rifles
like Stradivarius made violins
and the first recoil
was a symphony
compressed to a split second
he brought wood to life
as though generations of forests grew
to make the right grain
the right feel worthy of his talent

he did not build airplanes,
he built aircraft with the precision of a heart surgeon
knowing a loose screw, one misaligned wire
could transform a craft of beauty
into a coffin
and wife like his into a widow
he made no widows
except one

he crafted art that soared like mechanical angels
and made us feel
how he must have felt with Grandma

even in his absence he scares me
because he was so much more
of what a man should be
than the men I see around me
than the man who fathered me

he was sometimes the machine moving me
he was sometimes the monster under my bed
keeping me from going gently into the night
without fighting the darkness
he was sometimes a giant
stretching hands from horizon to horizon
holding down the sun and moon
and dictating their rising

I am convinced that eastern Montana
is so perfectly flat
in awe of him

we call him Papa
and he could move mountains with his silence

I never heard him say he loved her
not in words
not in a way I could steal
not in a way that the cheap poet in me
could have plagiarized into a stanza
for some mediocre poem unworthy of his memory

I never heard him say he loved her with words

he said it with his eyes

he said it in the stories my mother would tell me
about how he would raise armies and wage wars
just to bring her flowers

he said it with the way he told me
about driving across New York and Pennsylvania every weekend
just to see her for two hours between college classes and curfews

he said he loved her by playing "waltzing matilda" on a harmonica
like he was asking her to dance for the first time,
even after all these years

he said he loved her
by showing us how good man
should love a woman right

we call him Papa
and he could move mountains with his silence

he is the poet
me, his eldest grandson,
I am just his microphone

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