Sunday, June 20 is Father's Day in the U.S. Since I devoted a recent post to my dad (the oak book case), I'm going to focus this Father's Day post on my dad's brother, Uncle Jimmie.
My dad was the pastor, the sun shining from the pulpit. Uncle Jimmie was the moon, the kind of man who could slip by without notice. (Not that I don't always look for the moon when I'm out at night.) Two of his dark losses the poem refers to are losing his wife early, and losing his only child Marjorie in her thirties, in a tragic death. Also born in Virginia, like my dad, he stayed there his entire life. I love how he said "Mrs. Culpepper" -- Mrs. Culpeppah. Maybe the Virginian accent is the most beautiful of all the Southern accents. Uncle Jimmie had the humblest and most loving smile of anyone I've ever known. He was very shy, even physically. You could feel him try to disappear into his skin. Yet somehow he managed to transform himself for us kids when he hand-combed his hair down over his eyes, shrank his tall thin self down, dragging his knuckles on the floor, jutting his lower jaw out and sticking his tongue inside his upper lip to make himself look like an ape, and leapt and oh-oh-ohed monkey gutturals around the room, just to entertain us. I miss him. He was a tremendous man, uncle and father. He died in 1994, and I wrote this poem shortly after that.
"Flying to Uncle Jimmie's Funeral" is a catalog poem. That just means you write lists and descriptions, cataloging something, or many things. So if you look, you can see many catalogs of different things. It's a way of expanding a metaphor, like the moon, into more layers.
Flying to Uncle Jimmie's Funeral
He was not magnetic in life.
We did not gather to him like birds
around a sunrise,
airplanes on the tarmac around the hub of gates,
garden club seniors around flowering dogwoods,
doctors around the bed of a dying man
or mourners around a coffin.
He was not central.
He was adjacent.
Reflective of someone else's glory,
like the moon outside my cabin window,
or the pond reflecting the moon
in the farmer's field below,
a point of interest along the route
under a plane flying somewhere else,
the man in the moon, slightly off center,
shy of looking at you full-faced.
More accurately, he was adjacent
and translucent, the man in the moon
a filmy petal at the side of the sky,
delicately agreeing with the sun,
drawing little attention to himself,
allowing other light, not only to take credit,
but also to define him,
so simply lucid he was.
Still, he was light,
undeniably brighter and warmer than the space
to which he was adjacent.
Now that I have looked long enough to study him
I don't recall that a shadow
ever eclipsed his face even a sliver,
somehow, miraculously staying full
throughout the dark losses
of his life.
Now, he lies in Richmond in a casket,
waiting at the center of all our routes,
my parents, my brother and I from Michigan,
my sisters from California,
and those in Virginia,
his sister from Bridgewater,
his ancient friends from Fredericksburg,
He is the hub of our spokes,
a magnet guiding our courses,
the point to which we aspire,
the focus of every thought.
I imagine the man in the moon, contained
in a closed box
that can't accommodate the rays,
like his fragile body that condensed power
and couldn't keep it from spilling out
despite his efforts,
having the life of a respirator tube,
the beauty of a dogwood branch
and the attraction of
a simple white line on the edge
of the runway that turns out
to be an arrow.
~ Ruth M.
Published in the Red Cedar Review May 1994
Listen to me read "Flying to Uncle Jimmie's Funeral", here.