Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

Fire and Rain

----For my Father, Moses

I want to hold on to the parts of my father
that are not fading into the night.
That broad smile, the hard laugh, the frown,
the stern twist of face, the disapproving eye
when a neighbor boy who thought he’d fallen

in love is caught sitting with me in our living
room; my father, his white delicately starched
shirt, buttoned close to his Adam’s apple.
I want to hold on not to shirts or to his always black
framed glasses, but to the hope in those huge

balding eyes, which when he was sixty, made me
think Pa was so hardworking, he could fall asleep
standing. I want to fold me in his dream of me, walking
down a road no other woman had walked.
Hope was not a fading cloud in my father’s eyes.

I saw in him, something hard and forever, like ebony,
like an oak, like walnut, standing alone at Gbaliahde,
where at birth, they planted his umbilical cord
just so he would become the mighty tree that he was.
My father, the lion, Kwadi Chee, eater of fresh
leaves, the king, the elders called him.

I want to hold on to his life forever since a father
did not die, did not get buried before his eldest
girl-child could see him lie in death in his casket,
clasped hands, his face still held high; even in death,
a father did not fade into cloud and dust.

I want to hold on to his phone number forever,
to hold it captive in my phone forever,
to hold on to his sharp voice, his early
morning calls, pleading like a dying friend,
begging me to come home for his dying.

His pleading surprise about the reasons
his eldest girl child could not come home
the way a daughter was supposed to, and his not
knowing why I would not say why.
But how does a daughter tell her dying
father that she is too ill to walk, that
a cancer patient does not pull out steroid tubes,
does not pull out chemo filled tubes to wail
loud on a long flight across the Atlantic?
How do you tell your dying father that you

cannot come? But in my heart, I’ll hold on
to his last sharp laugh, the giving up
and not giving up when at last he knew it
without knowing. That acceptance of finality,
the negotiation between the eldest daughter

and the dying father, where the huge Atlantic
stands wide, the negotiation of burial rites,
that goodbye even as his voice held strong,
the concession in that last “I’m proud of you,
my daughter,” the final word from a man

as tough as a steel rock from Tugbakeh, father,
the early morning dew catcher, the road map
from Kaluway, my father, leaving me to take
the journey where the journey wants to go.
My father, fire and rain, my father, Moses,

parting the Red Sea so the sons of Kaluway
could follow, the bookman, parting
brush and forest. Moses, Kwadi Chee,
father of fathers, I want to hold you forever.


Patricia Jabbeh Wesley is a Liberian civil war survivor who immigrated to the United States with her family during the fourteen year Liberian civil war. Her books include When the Wanderers Come Home, Where the Road Turns, The River is Rising, Becoming Ebony, Before the Palm Could Bloom: Poems of Africa, and one children’s book, In Monrovia, the River Visits the Sea. Her poem, “One Day: Love Song for Divorced Women” was featured by US Poet Laureate, Ted Kooser in American Life in Poetry June 13, 2011 edition. Some of her awards include a 2016 WISE Women Award and the Crab Orchard Award. Her poems have appeared in New Orleans Review, Crab Orchard Review, Prairie Schooner, among others, and have been translated into several languages. She is an Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing at Penn State University.

 


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