Father, Tell Me I Have Not Aged
Thirteen Years Old, I Wanted to Sit in a
Dinghy and Forget My Father
drunk again, a week after missing the road
and floating his car out among the lily pads on the lake.
Now he was cursing from the shore
because I was the content one
watching sunfish dart among the swaying trails,
their iridescent scales catching light.
And his blonde girlfriend in her string bikini
shouting at me to return to shore, a woman
ten years younger, whom he would marry
even if she wrote poetry.
Father’s girl, wading through the weeds,
waved at me and her bikini top popped,
Father’s voice exploding at her bare breasts
as she hauled my bow into the cattails.
She held me in her arms and I felt her skin
thrill me in a way lily pads never had,
loving a wet garden. In those rocking boat days,
her panties discarded on kitchen chairs, my baseball
cap pulled tight on my head even when inside,
we slept in the same bed when Father threw
lighter fluid on his mattress, igniting pleasure
in a way she never wanted to feel.
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Sunning Ourselves on the Boat Beached in
the Pond Long Ago, When Mother Was Alive
but Father always deep in the entrails of the boat
where gasoline rose to wrinkle the air
on holidays, until he re-emerged
like a novelist with gray hair and eyes wild
from too many vapors inhaled
to say hello. He’d look at us sunbathers
on the boat deck which never moved,
and growl about an engine
part that might have been
old as he was in his fifties,
but whose presence was missing
in the secret cinema beneath us.
The girls, sunning in their bikinis and shades,
fermented in lotion and exposure
in the sun, and reminded me
of a time of sunsets, an Eastern European
ruin love never understood, hands
dumb with the speech of animals.
Mother, turning her head toward
her gangly teenager son, seized me
with her beauty, and the revolution of the earth
smoothed us to stillness. Mother,
buried in a glance, watched a heron
like a movie prop flap its huge black wings
across the water, then Father, in his black raincoat,
each of us deeper than alone.
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Russell Thorburn’s Father, Tell Me I Have Not Aged is as sure-footed and persuasive a poetry collection as I have come across in a long time. To say it both devastates and delights with its insights is simply to acknowledge the book’s depth and accuracy of emotion, its abiding humanity, and its vigorous pursuit of linguistic exuberance. I was not only moved by what I encountered in these poems, I was compelled. This is poetry of the first order.
If every poem is, as Frost says, an adventure, then Russell Thorburn is a reliable guide and these poems, cinematic in their unfolding, full of startling visions and remembrance—good, rare gifts, indeed.
In this collection of brilliant meditative poems, Russell Thorburn examines the strange ironies of being human, shaking his head in wonder, regret, bemusement, and even ecstasy. He looks back on the simplicity of the past with the wisdom of someone who knows no such simple life exists. Despite the shadow of death looming over these poems, despite the battle against the erasure of our pasts, Thorburn finds plenty to celebrate, for ultimately, this is a book of acceptance of life, with all its flaws—an acceptance of the human, stripped down to all its beauty and terror.
I’m wanting to leave these poems by Russell Thorburn on church pews and park benches, to fill cargo planes with his poems and airdrop them all over the world. I’m wanting to rush up to strangers on the street, the grocery store clerk, and to offer this collection as currency, to beg the ranting world one listener at a time to sit here and be still and be ruined alive by these fine poems … You hold in your hands an artifact born of spark and tinder and this poet’s stubborn diligence.