41. Blue Brick from the Midwest

After my father collapsed like a bolt of light, toppled without a word,

I was the one to enter his study, find the jagged note to our mother he

scratched as he reeled, the freight train of his departure hurtling

through his heart—

—a sentiment he did not speak in 79 years as tough customer,

affable but stern, inert when grief came, reserved as granite

when my brother died, cracking plaintive jokes when we trembled

in the hospital, mother going under the knife.

His way was trenchant, oblique. He distrusted those who

talk about God, preferring to honor the holy with a glance,

a nod, or silence. Delving deeper, the day he died, we found

in his sock drawer, under that scant set of flimsy raiment, the fetching

photo of the flirt: our mother, coy at the sink, looking back

over her shoulder, dressed only in an apron with a big bow.

No fool like an old fool.

And delving deeper, at the back of the bottom file (the niche

where one would hide the stuff of blackmail) I touched the blue

brick of love letters our mother had sent him when they

courted in the war—brittle leaves kissed snug together

and bound with string, the trove he had carried

in secret through every move since 1943. She knew

them not, nor had his. “Oh, Billy,” she said.

Father, early years taught your way with the heart’s contraband

when the dirty thirties blunted your bravado, tornado snatched

your friends, the war your tenderness, and left you with these secrets

hoarded for us to find when you were gone.

— Kim Stafford

“Blue Brick from the Midwest” is from Prairie Prescription, a chapbook forthcoming from Limberlost Press in 2011. Kim Stafford is the founding director of the Northwest Writing Institute at Lewis & Clark College. He is the author of The Muses Among Us: Eloquent Listening and Other Pleasures of the Writer’s Craft and Early Morning: Remembering My Father, William Stafford.


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