Saturday, March 26, 2005

163. an unforgivable lapse of attention

here I sit, drawing
elephants for another man's child,
recalling, with pain, the death
of my daughter, when was it,
eleven years ago?

she would have been seventeen

seventeen, sweet and lovely,
convinced she was ugly,
worried about pimples,
horrified, yet very attracted to boys,
glued to her mobile phone;

it's not so hard to imagine

that day, crystal clear
in memory, I will never forget;
it was all so casual, my wife
simply wanted to get her hair done,
asked me to care for the child;

if only days could be lived over, taken back

the sun shining, I thought,
sweetheart, let's go for a walk,
would you like that, alanna?
and she, all smiles and trust,
put on her coat and took my hand;

why, oh why didn't we stay at home?

down on the street, as usual,
the traffic went whizzing by;
I held her hand, tightly,
and we talked about important things,
her school, her friends, her questions;

fathers can love children they do not physically bear

a friend, John O'Farrell,
hove into view: well, is it yourself
I asked, loosing my grip
on the child to shake his hand,
and that's when it happened;

no blame to you, John, but stay out of my sight

the police, sympathetic,
say the death was instantaneous:
when she stepped off the kerb
the driver, a Pakistani immigrant,
had no chance to stop;

mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!

eleven long years, not one
day goes by when I don't relive
each moment: my wife, tight-lipped,
never blamed me; the divorce
came through six months later.

Note: This poem has received a number of shocked and sympathetic responses on an Internet poetry forum where it was posted last week. I would like to reassure readers that the events in the poem are not biographical; I was just trying to write from the position of every parent's worst nightmare.