It was given to me on a bookmark, each word of the poem spilling onto the next on both densely writ-in cardboard sides. I’d got it from the old barber around the corner of the street I used to live on, who’d been keeping it for a friend and had told me he no longer had need of it. The gravity of that statement, I have only recently come to grasp.
I lost the bookmark on a rainy day a year ago today, but the poem has stuck with me. It’s a treasure, reposed in the author’s lifelong collection of poetry titled The Blue Museum.
The following belongs, in my traced memory, to the friend of the old barber who perhaps never made it to Paris.
For My Father Who Never Made it to Paris
Phil Cousineau, for Richard Beban
For my father who never made it to Paris
I meet friends late at night in smokey cafes
To drink frothy cappuccino and listen
To Coltrane sax solos on old jukeboxes
And talk of the wounds
Of fathers and sons
For fathers and sons
Who never returned home,
I reach down for words to express my grief,
Like an emergency ward surgeon groping
For stray sharpnel in the flesh
Of bleeding loved ones.
For all the words never found between men,
The buried burning words slowly infecting us,
I drop quarters in no-name bar telephones.
To call suicidal friends, distraught fathers,
Lone wolf sons who howl at the indifference of the moon,
And offer the round table of brotherhood.
For all the tumors caused by sorrow,
And all the ulcers formed by anger,
For all the nightmares wrought by rage,
And all the emptiness carved by despair,
I probe friends and family
For healing stories.
For my father and all fathers
Who never saw Paris,
One friend listens, reveals,
Reaches in an open wound,
Finds a piece of gold shrapnel,
Cashes it in for airfare,
Takes his father to the Left Bank.
So the healing
— Paris, 1986
Photography: Alex J. | SOUTH KOREA. Seoul. 2013.