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.