… read poetry to us
as we lay tucked in our beds
in the room I shared with my little sister
in the bungalow on Ashland Avenue.
Grown-up poetry: Sir Walter Scott, Longfellow,
Tennyson, Leigh Hunt, Kipling.
Though much of the substance of those works
sailed well over our heads,
the way he read them – with something like reverence,
sometimes with urgency,
convinced me that I had much to learn
from Abou Ben Adhem, from Lochinvar, from Gunga Din.
And because my Dad could hit a softball farther
than anyone on the policemen’s team,
which recruited him as a ringer every summer
for their annual showdown with the firemen,
I knew it would be okay if I was the only boy in my class
who spoke in verse.
My dad could sing.
His was the kind of voice
that can exact from an audience
a moment of absolute silence
just before the explosion of applause.
To listen to that voice,
flowing from a stage, resounding from a choir loft or
(muffled by our bathroom door)
offering up “Unchained Melody” as the benediction
to an immersed reverie,
was to recognize something sourced in the heart
which insists upon expression.
And because the singer had once been
a Chicago Public League wrestling champion,
I harbored no fear in opening my own heart in song
to the seekers, dreamers and cynics
who would inhabit the world of my youth.
He had a Code,
not learned by rote,
but slowly assembled from axioms and proverbs,
scoured by experience.
It required that he stand down to no one
and readily accept the price to be paid for such a conceit.
It led him to always offer to pick up the check
and to never argue over one.
It anticipated the future as an upward path
and filtered from the past all the puddles of spilled milk.
It allowed for mistakes and apology,
generosity and forgiveness.
And because on occasion I saw this powerful man cry unashamedly,
I would come to understand
that gentleness is not a weakness,
nor disappointment, loss or failure
the same thing as defeat.
Michael Brandt’s musings have appeared sporadically across a spectrum of Midwestern news and special interest publications. He is privileged to share a ridge top in Arena with his wife, Janet, and their large hound Thule.