Poetry from Robert Stephens

                                       A Father’s Vigil

A man sits on a folding stool talking with his daughter even though she is not listening. But he does not mind. She has not listened to him these past years. Still, he talks as if she is there, not in the shallow grave she rests in, consumed by the natural way of all the dead in this corner of the park. The park did not allow a head stone or marker. He built a cairn of the rough serpentine rocks the day of her interment, the family crying and weeping with the sorrow that comes from the disbelief of a child passing. He wept along with them. He believed she had passed but knew that it was not an end.

The rocks were gone when he came to talk the first time. He came back every year, an annual vigil. Every time he came to talk with her, he tried to remember the tree she was buried near. At first, he came on the anniversary of her burial then on her birthday. A friend told him not to remember her at her death, but her birth. The conversations were the same, but it was easier to talk with her on her birthday than the anniversary of her death. He talked of family things: family trips and holiday gatherings, at Christmas, Thanksgiving and the 4th of July. One year it was the story of a white Christmas at her grandma’s house and the snowball fight that ended with everyone cold, exhausted and laughing. And the Fourth of July in Disneyland, the noise, the light, the awe. He talked about birthdays and events, both happy and sad. He told her about her grandma's 85th birthday, and how she died the next year. He talked of personal things: fears and regrets, joys and successes. He talked of the regrets of not spending more time with her: sharing her favorite movie, playing tag in the park with the dog.

He talked of her: memories and possibilities, so much of her life left undone, dreams left undreamed, wishes never to be fulfilled. Early on he wondered if he was sane or just obsessed by coming every year. Her mom worried about him. As the years passed she worried less and less. He often came back more relaxed, almost relieved, like a burden had been diminished. He often asked his daughter what she thought about the things he told her. He knew she was not listening.
But she was there, for him, all his life. She became his confidante.
When his death was near, he made one last visit. This time there were no stories, no histories. Just the fears of the uncertainty of death: was there an afterlife, would he find her there, would someone come talk to him, would he listen. At the end he thanked her for being there, and wept. If she had listened, she would have thanked him for the company.

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