We never carry them the way they carry us, but we carry, we do.
I may never lift my father in my arms and cradle him to sleep–
but I would if that were the only thing to do, if he withered away,
the blood in his urine signaling cancer gone cure-less, and all
of his 6’3″body shrunk to size befitting my strength’s capacity.
His burden was not the same as mine now, yet just as heavy.
I make his doctor appointments, petition his insurance carrier
for returns and permissions, for money owed and paid, due
promises others should keep, I track them and bite my nails
when he drives, counting the days til the inevitable unknown.
I am his memory and his nattering nit-picking conscience.
Parenting him is not like his parenting me–not like it at all.
He left parenting to his wife, my mother, who stares skeletal now.
My parenting is ironic, the young to the old, whereas his or hers
was right side up. Picking up my body in his arms to rush me,
bleeding, to the doctor downstairs when I cut my finger off in the
city apartment steel shut booming door I teased with my 3 year old
fingers til it bit my left forefinger, my pointer, right off my hand,
he carried me, but not like I carry him, in his arms, not in my arms,
but in my constant vigilance and resentment and worry and fear.
I watch him and struggle to be patient, to be nice, to be a daughter
not a mother or a wife or stranger disinterested in the outcome,
though that may be how it appears on the outside, estrangement.
But it’s never-without-burning back of the mind bearing weight,
loaded on a mind’s shoulders, sagged under heavy-careful love.
He held me in lightness and faith, worry, worship and wonder.
I speak him in my dreams, awakening to his anger and my own.
Shaking off our bodies to the dust is always on our minds, we two–
a father to a daughter-mother-mortal-stranger til the end, ours.