by Debra Fox
my ailing father’s
wrapped around my neck
I lied when I wrote this. My father never owned a scarf. That the scarf exposes itself on its own line torments the part of me that believes in telling the truth.
The poem is not a complete fabrication—my father did ail. He crashed his dry-cleaning van into an oak on the same route he’d taken to work for sixty years. I never knew why. He was in shock by the time the ambulance arrived, and later he couldn’t remember what led to the collision. His eighty-year-old body suffered broken ribs, a shattered forearm and internal injuries so severe, he required six separate surgeries.
Fueled by the fear of losing him, and the monotony of visiting while he lay comatose, I jotted images into a notebook. The scarf materialized as the respirator pumped oxygen into his lungs. Knit of gray and black flecked wool, it mimicked the stubble on his unshaven cheeks. Though I yearned for something soft, the scarf was scratchy like him. I imagined it acquiring his scent—a mixture of Noxzema Shaving Cream and Lifeboy soap.
Another lie—the word wrapped. Nothing about it describes my relationship with my father. Of the gifts he gave me: the wooden box with a ballerina painted on top, later the red satin “Seventy-Sixers” jacket, and finally the gold bracelet to commemorate my law school graduation, all were unceremoniously delivered—no bows, no wrapping paper.
Nor did my father ever wrap me in his arms. Not when I returned from the year I studied abroad in France; not after I gave birth to my two children; and not after my husband’s cancer diagnosis. That didn’t stop me from employing it. The one verb in the poem.
A final lie—that coiling my father’s scarf around my neck would bring comfort. We shrunk from touching one another, or by extension one another’s possessions. That I spotlight the neck, a body part that houses the carotid artery and jugular vein with nothing but skin to protect it, feels unsettling.
After the accident my father lived another ten years. The part of me that longs for connection forces false images. I dream about wearing the scarf on a cold walk home from the train station. Or while sautéing carrots and celery in butter in my drafty kitchen as I prepare the potato leek soup he favored. Or when sitting by the fire with my husband on the first anniversary of his death.
Debra Fox is an adoption attorney and founder of Story Tributes, an enterprise that preserves the stories of people’s lives. She is a reader for Philadelphia Stories, as well as the mother of two sons: one profoundly autistic and the other a journalist. In her spare time, she loves to dance. She, her husband, and their son Matthew live on the outskirts of Philadelphia. Much of her published work can be found at www.debramfox.com.
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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Yarn”? I wrote the poem that inspired this essay several years ago. At the time, I felt unsettled because so much of it wasn’t true to my relationship with my father. Then, in April of 2020, my father died of Covid, and the poem began surfacing when I thought of him. I decided the poem had more to say, and that I should follow where it led.The result is this essay.
What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Yarn”?
I wrote the poem that inspired this essay several years ago. At the time, I felt unsettled because so much of it wasn’t true to my relationship with my father. Then, in April of 2020, my father died of Covid, and the poem began surfacing when I thought of him. I decided the poem had more to say, and that I should follow where it led.The result is this essay.
Check out the write-up of the journal in The Writer.
Matter Press recently released titles from Meg Boscov, Abby Frucht, Robert McBrearty, Tori Bond, Kathy Fish, and Christopher Allen. Click here.
Matter Press is now offering private flash fiction workshops and critiques of flash fiction collections here.
Poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction/prose poetry submissions are now open. The reading period for standard submissions closes again December 15, 2022. Submit here.
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