Fall 2006, Volume 23.1
Mikel Vause (Ph.D., Bowling Green University) is Professor of English at Weber State University where he is co-director and founder of the National Undergraduate Literature Conference. His essays, poems, and stories have appeared in numerous publications including American Nature Writer, Popular Culture Review, The John Muir News Letter, and The Himalayan Journal. He is author of a collection of essays On Mountains and Mountaineers and editor of The Peregrine Reader, Wilderness Tapestry and two volumes of essays by women climbers, Rock and Roses vol. I and II. He has recently published his first collection of poems I Knew it Would Come to This and is currently writing a biography of British mountaineer Chris Bonington.
I’m trying to remember what my father said to me
But he’s been gone so long
And while, in my mind, I see him clearly,
How he walked with his head tipped slightly to the side
And how he always folded his arms just so,
Hiding the tattoo on his left biceps with his right hand.
I can see his even white teeth when he’d smile
And again when he’d grimace when his heart would spasm
And he’d reach for the nitroglycerin pills
He always carried in the right-hand pocket of his trousers.
I seem to remember many things about my dad,
Like the color of his favorite suit—gray,
His black Florshiem shoes
And a black bow tie with red and gray stripes on one side.
Yet for all I remember about him
I can’t seem to clearly recall much of what he said to me.
Just when I think of something familiar,
Just as it’s "on the tip of my tongue"
Somehow it fades away.
I want to bring my father’s words back
Because I think if I could
I’d know what to say to my own son.
How to say things that would keep him from pain.
If I could remember my dad’s words,
Then I could speak them and my son would know who he is—
That he’s my son just as I was my father’s son.
And that should mean something
But what that is I’m no sure.
My father has been dead for almost forty years
And I cannot hear his words, cannot remember them right.
Maybe this is a punishment—
I had my chance and didn’t take it.
I live off the words of others,
Those of my kind.
I’m not sure when I developed the taste
For nouns, adverbs, and adjectives
Placed on printed paper plates.
I have a craving for words strung together
In tantalizing, thought provoking phrases—
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,"
The reader in me knows what that means,
How it applies regardless of time.
"Leopold Bloom was the eater of animal entrails."
So was my father and my father’s father and so on and so on and so on.
On cold winter days,
After the snow was shoveled,
My father fed me hot liverwurst and sharp cheddar cheese
On hard bread.
I swallow words.
Sometimes I chew them,
Slowly letting them slide into my belly,
A little at a time.
Sometimes I lose control and gulp them down,
whole in the juices of my middle.
"Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting…"
But I don’t forget—
I dream and the stories grow word by word,
Phrase by phrase.
Some are sweet, others force me awake
Screaming and shaking and wanting more:
"I’m having a friend for dinner."
I am a cannibal:
Shelley, Frost, Elliot, Harris,
Shakespeare, Dickens, Carver, Austin, Burns,
Faulkner, all and more.
I have shamelessly devoured them.
They are inside me,
And I cannot stop—
Utah in the Morning
Dry lake bed and mountains,
sagebrush and plateaus stretch
toward the sunrise.
From western darkness
The hot sun
Creates long shadows after noon,
Makes the green ground
Even as it dries it—
The miracle of morning.