Yes, I can hear you, father,
at the other end of the line you invented
for us to phone on after you died.
I can hear your prolonged throat-clearing
like fork tines dragged over grit,
know you’re preparing to speak.
I can even see the anger boiling up in your face
as I pull specked leaves from sprouts tighter
than fists, chop shining leeks into rings
for a soup I’m making to succour
the aged pair next door. Now you scald me:
Why are you making soup
for strangers when you wouldn’t cook,
wouldn’t take care of me?

I’m making soup
because it’s not a duty that traps me
rabbit-helpless between metal teeth,
because it comforts me in winter
to smell the sizzle of softened onions,
because it doesn’t occur to my old neighbour
to give in to shaky legs, shrinking body,
because he planed at his bench for years, grew
potatoes, gooseberries, sweet peas in his garden,
because he waits on his wife who’s enjoyed
almost a century of delicate health,
because I’ve seen four pans steaming on his stove,
because love fuels his willing slavery,
because he’ll call this soup a godsend.

All right, I knew you’d bark me down –
it wouldn’t be you if you weren’t top dog.
I can see you issuing instructions
up there as if you were still
in the Home, demanding special rights,
losing your temper with the cackhanded,
hounding the timid, passing judgement,
making up jokes for your favourites, offering
advice on finances, giving the thoughtful one
a cheque to buy panchromatic glasses –
oh I know your deep seam of kindness.

But I can’t forget the jug.
Jug? you boom. Yes, the white-lipped jug
painted with roses, not even half full,
the jug you complained was a burden
to carry upstairs so that your dying wife
could totter to the kettle in her room, pour
your afternoon tea – she whose picture
you idolized after her death.
That jug is lodged inside me.

Jug! you bellow but I cut you off.
When I choose I can reconnect
to you at ninety-three, alert, probing
theories of the universe, explaining
the more we know the less we know;
or I can listen again to the story
of that sleepless night in 1943
when you struggled to solve in your head
the mystery of the gas the Germans
had packed into powerful missiles,
the eureka moment flooding
like the moon on a frosty lawn,
feel proud you helped shorten The War…

Yes, I can hear you father,
am sad I didn’t cook you meals,
glad I’d slipped enough chains
to stay with myself. No need
to shout. Go back to bossing
the angels while I add a pinch of sage
and thyme to the barley-pearled soup.

©2016, Myra Schneider, All rights reserved; excerpted from
Parents, an anthology of peoms by women writers” (Entharmon/Second Light, 2000), published here with the permission of writer and publisher

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