Thursday, September 27, 2012

Thomas John ("Whitey") Eilers

I came across an old photograph of a football team that I assumed was one of those photos of people I never knew that insinuate themselves into family photos -- people ancestors knew.  I looked more closely recently and discovered my father as a very young man, probably attending Muskegon High School, Michigan.  It is as if he knew he had better celebrate his hair while it was there, as the men in the Eilers family always end up bald.
I also had not recognized him because this is not the man I knew at an older age who was worn down by farm work for a sadistic German father, work in the Gary steel mills, the Great Depression, struggles as the president of a local union...and many other blows to numerous to mention.
I have felt possessive of my poems, adding none or few on this blog, but I am realizing that once they have been published elsewhere they are relatively "safe" or saved, and so I include such a poem as it fits the subject:  "Father"


When Margaret let me warm my hands in the pocket
of her fur coat as we sat in her little Ford coupe
outside a bar in Black Oak, Indiana,
I was small enough never to have seen the man
in the moon.  Inside the bar, she had lifted me
to pull the handle on the slot machine,
but it wasn’t money I wanted, but just to see
the twirling wheels come to rest as cherries,
oranges, bananas – solid shapes in edible
colors.  As I began to see the man in the moon
I didn’t think of my father, Whitey, drunk in the bar –
gay and lively tonight, but a bitter clod tomorrow. 
I didn’t know the monster would age, change over
time, grow frail and gentle and pale as the man
in the three‑quarter moon – nose and mouth
in profile growing sharper and thinner,
a patch of ice on dark ground, melting
until there is only mud, stars, and memory.

[Published in on-line Poetry Ark]