“Aimless Love” (and my Dad)

Somewhere along the way, I fell in love with poetry. It wasn’t just the economy of language; goodness knows, some poetry can be so heavy with words it’s a wonder they don’t weigh an actual ton in addition to their metaphorical girth.

No. It was the way the poet seemed to know exactly what my simple heart felt as I moved throughout my common life; it was the way good poets can take the mundane and wordsmith it into something sacred.

My father too, was a poetry devotee. 

This morning, looking out the window at a November that is crisp against the sky, I’m trying to remember when Dad and I first started swapping poems. When I was a girl, certainly. Funny limericks, delicate haiku, and the twisting turning punctuation glorious madness of e.e. cummings were our starting point. 

Dad was also my favorite reader, the one whom I would take my own poems to – to shyly share. He would listen and then ask for a second presentation. Next, he’d ask for his own copy to study. He would ask questions and critique with praise alone, but never edited or diminished. He would graciously say things like “You amaze me. I could never write a poem, but you can do it with ease. Have you ever considered writing a book?” And I’d laugh at his kindness and the obvious loving bias that only a father is permitted. 

Mind you, he said these words to me over and over from the time I was ten years old until I was 52…..

During the months that Dad was packing up his mortal life and preparing for the next adventure, he read voraciously. It was as though he was topping off his soul with stories, essays, and reflections from the minds and pens of others. The stacks of books and New Yorker and Atlantic Monthy magazines next to his bedside piled higher as his days grew shorter. Sleep and visitors and discomfort were regular interrupters, so he laughed about re-reading the same passages and making mighty use of book markers. 

Toward the end —when conversation became circular, I started reading him poems again and fed him my favorites…Neruda, Stafford, Oliver and especially Billy Collins – who Dad particularly liked. In the exact manner he’d often listened to my childhood creations, I would recite and he would ask for a second or third recitation. We’d chat about it briefly, and then he’d take the book into his own hands to see it for himself. The poems were the perfect dose in time and attention, and gave him something he could think about as he drifted back to sleep.

“Aimless Love” was the one he asked to hear most often during the last week of his life. A long time favorite of mine for it’s sturdy loving sweetness about the smallest things that touch our hearts, it became and will now forever be a simple song about my Dad. It was never the extraordinary things he did that tied my heart to him forever. It was always the smallest pieces – the feel of his hand holding mine never changed – even though my hand grew, the smell of clean linen and autumn air that seemed to be his natural scent, the way his brow furrowed slightly when he was listening, the tilt of his head when he laughed, and the way he said my name.

Sharing this poem on the anniversary of his passing. While I miss him every day, I’m sure Dad is getting to read to his loving heart’s content now and there’s plenty of time for joy. xo mlp

AIMLESS LOVE by Billy Collins
This morning as I walked along the lakeshore,
I fell in love with a wren
and later in the day with a mouse
the cat had dropped under the dining room table.

In the shadows of an autumn evening,
I fell for a seamstress
still at her machine in the tailor’s window,
and later for a bowl of broth,
steam rising like smoke from a naval battle.

This is the best kind of love, I thought,
without recompense, without gifts,
or unkind words, without suspicion,
or silence on the telephone.

The love of the chestnut,
the jazz cap and one hand on the wheel.

No lust, no slam of the door –
the love of the miniature orange tree,
the clean white shirt, the hot evening shower,
the highway that cuts across Florida.

No waiting, no huffiness, or rancor –
just a twinge every now and then

for the wren who had built her nest
on a low branch overhanging the water
and for the dead mouse,
still dressed in its light brown suit.

But my heart is always propped up in a field on its tripod,
ready for the next arrow.

After I carried the mouse by the tail
to a pile of leaves in the woods,
I found myself standing at the bathroom sink
gazing down affectionately at the soap,

so patient and soluble,
so at home in its pale green soap dish.
I could feel myself falling again
as I felt its turning in my wet hands
and caught the scent of lavender and stone.

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