Friday, June 18, 2010

Father's Day


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
in daylight,
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,
Chicago, Atlanta,
and those in Virginia,
his sister from Bridgewater,
his ancient friends from Fredericksburg,
Harrisonburg, Charlottesville.
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,
beams overflowing,
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.
February 1994
Published in the Red Cedar Review May 1994

Listen to me read "Flying to Uncle Jimmie's Funeral", here.



M said...


I always enjoy your poems. Per usual, this one touched me with its rich imagery. The first two stanzas perfectly capture what you described as the essence of this man. I love your prefatory remarks about him, too. And the final

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Babs-beetle said...

A beautiful poem.

cathyswatercolors said...

What a beautiful poem. I hope you read it at your uncle's funeral. He sounded like a wonderful man,understated,humble, intelligent,steady and unique. That was my father's ways too. Wonderful. I like a catalog poem.

Loring Wirbel said...

Beautiful, I think of moon people or actions as oblique strategies, sideways glances. Never saw this in original RCR version!

Anet said...

Incredible Ruth!
I could read your poems and stories all day!
(I'm still waiting for that book, you'll be publishing someday:)

Shari Sunday said...

Hi. Computer problems apparently kept my comment from being saved this morning. When you say something so beautifully it stands forever. I love the image of family and friends circling around someone who had seldom been in the spotlight. I have a feeling this is a very fitting tribute that would have been appreciated by the honoree.

Pat said...

What a beautiful tribute to a wonderful man. I love the imagery in this poem, especially the end and how he attracted everyone back home with his death.

Susan said...

I'll bet Uncle Jimmie would have been very touched by your loving tribute. And it's lovely that you have honored him for this day. Adjacent lights are sometimes the most comforting.

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Anonymous said...

beautiful tribute!

ds said...

Oh, beautiful. What a lovely man he was (so tragic, his life), casting his own soft light over you kids while content to also reflect the sun. A strong man. Thank you for sharing him.

Thanks also for the explanation of the catalog poem, though this seems less "list" than "puff pastry" for all of the layers. And they are yummy.

Terresa said...

What a glorious poem. I loved the matter-of-factness of this:
He was not central.

He was adjacent.

And the entire last stanza sings. An ode to a well loved Uncle. I miss my passed on uncles, too...

Ruth said...

Thank you, Mary. I wish my feelings for him had been conveyed to him before he died.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Babs. Jimmie was an artist too, like you.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Cathy. Even though the thoughts were ruminating on the flight to Virginia, I didn't write this until a week or two later. When I have read this publicly, every time I end up weeping in the last stanza. I guess that isn't a bad thing, but it's not something you really want to do.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Loring. Oh! Do you have a collection of RCRs?

Ruth said...

Anet, thank you so much. If I ever self publish ('cause that's the only way it'll happen), I will let you know. :)

Ruth said...

Thank you, Shari, I hope you're right. My parents read this poem, and once I read it publicly when they were present. I don't think my dad was fond of it, he never said anything about it. My mom loved it and felt it captured Jimmie. I wish I had talked with my dad about it. He died the next year.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Pat. It's a shame about funerals, I think, the way we wait until someone is gone to do that.

Ruth said...

I hope he would, Susie, thank you. Yes, ambient light, right?

Ruth said...

Best wishes and blessings, Mr. Mobile.

Ruth said...

Kamana, thank you.

Ruth said...

DS, thank you. Yes, maybe it's more an accordion poem.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Terresa. It's fun to think about what form of poem each member of a family might conjure, starting with the ones who've passed. I hadn't thought about it, until just now - a way of chronicling the story bits that have been filtered down.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your visit my Aminus site, you remembered my office from the last summer :)
Also now I am sitting outside with my laptop, violets and the glimmering lake in front of my eyes.
I believe other`s opinions about your poem, I have to take more time for reading it carefully ( you can guess it knowing my English :)

I have been publishing some photos in my eldest blog during rainy days. If you get extra time sometimes, you can see photos of my mother there. Click my name - welcome!

Happy, rewarding weekend to you Ruth!

Loring Wirbel said...

Ruth, a very random and incomplete RCR collection....

C.M. Jackson said...

stunning--when I visit your blog I feel as though I am attending a master class on writing and creating!! You have created a truly unique and beautiful place here! Thank you-c

Anonymous said...

I know people like this...too much like this - there are no words fit for such a wonderful soul-and he is not dead,I won't believe it- as long as he remains in my heart.
Caitlin C. Wold

Marcie said...

Your poem is such a beautiful tribute to this man and all and who he was to you and others in his life. When you think about it - we are all mostly adjacent and translucent. Perhaps that's what makes us unique and the same??

California Girl said...

To compare someone to the moon is incredible. He must have been a lovely man.

freefalling said...

I like Uncle Jimmie.
And I've said before, I don't really get poetry, but I like this one.
It makes me see him.

Anonymous said...

I love your language and sensitivity in your insightful and poetic sketch, Ruth. And thanks for showing us what a catalogue poem can do, gathering parallels to augment the visual experience. Strength from quietness and confidence... a vivid picture you've painted.

Peter said...

The sun and the moon ... both are there, fortunately! The moonlight in the night is often of great help ... and beauty!

Ruth said...

Leena, I apologize. I know that poetry is difficult enough in one's own language. Thank you for attempting it anyway. :)

I love your sepia fence portraits.

Ruth said...

That is very kind, C.M., thank you.

Ruth said...

Caitlin, thank you for that, he does live on in our hearts.

Ruth said...

Marcie, that's a wonderful thought. We show through each other.

Ruth said...

California Girl, he was precious.

I really enjoyed your Father's Day post. Your dad was quite something.

Ruth said...

That's good, Letty.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Arti, it is a privilege to be the man's niece.

Ruth said...

Yes, Peter. I think often of how nice it is to be able to enjoy the things that are necessary and just here, like the moon.

deb said...

I am drawn to people like your Uncle. I do hope he was at peace.

Your poem honoured him well. And gifted me with your use of words, elegant, strong. Beauty for the day as it unfolds... thank you.

Jeanie said...

Ruth, this so touches my heart. I love -- like the moon! And I never knew poems like that were catalogue poems. Oh, I am so touched. I think we are mightily blessed when we have uncles or aunts that make such an impact on us. I know I have been lucky; sounds like you were, too.

Ginnie said...

When I think about how much we did NOT know our only uncle (and Auntie Sue, his sister), I could weep, Ruth. What a sin of omission! Once again, you have more memories than I. Keep them for the rest of us. I still remember this poem as though it were yesterday....

Oliag said...

On reading this poem you realize that this man was loved...

Montag said...

The human dynamics spoken of herein are very thoughtful, and they provoke me to meditation.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Deb. Uncle Jimmie could really open up with stories if you got him going. And we used to laugh at how that generation could remember dates.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Jeanie. I had just one aunt and her husband, and one uncle. My mother was an only child. My parents made up for it and had 8 kids. :)

Ruth said...

I hope so, Oliag. Thank you.

Ruth said...

That's good, Montag, very good.

Vagabonde said...

Very nice. I like it.