So Father’s Day is tomorrow. It made me think of a poem I wrote for my dad when I was 22 years old.
Seven years ago!* Crazy.
Last weekend, I celebrated my 29th birthday. Birthdays make me feel pretty nostalgic. Well, if I’m being truthful, anything makes me nostalgic: the melody of a song, the way the air smells after the rain, or any number of overwrought poetic imagery that I won’t bore you with, but birthdays really do it for me. It’s a time to reflect and look back on what’s happened and to try to move on.
Now that I’m a year older and with Father’s Day around the corner, it made me think about my dad. My dad and I have had a perplexing relationship. I remember a time when I thought he knew everything. I remember feeling like he was my protector. I remember feeling safe with him.
But then things changed.
Our relationship began to unravel after me, my mom, and dad immigrated to Canada. It’s only in looking back that I realize the turmoil he was going through. He was a highly educated young man from Laos, but in Canada he was no one. He couldn’t speak the language. He felt like an outsider. He felt like less than a person.
Sadly, he took his frustrations out on the ones he loved: my mom and me. Although I don’t condone what happened between me and him and my mom, I’ve tried over the years to understand why our family life was filled with verbal and physical abuse.
I know my dad has made great strides to change himself. He’s now a pastor at the church I grew up in when we arrived in Canada. I’m really proud of him and every time he stands at the podium to speak, I can’t help but remember the man who had once been my protector and who had made me feel safe all those years ago.
Heal, Nokyoung Xayasane
when I was younger I clung to you
the roots of a tree gripping the riverbank
shifting waters could not move us
enveloped by mosquito netting and protected
while balmy breezes blew within a decrepit shanty
the cracks would not let in the pain
shards of light reflecting mirror side up
bruised forearm, broken finger
I cannot find you in your dark
hidden by your rage, I search for you
the splashing, laughing pool
flipping through the pages of a torn photo album
you call out to me from your hiding place
a quiet voice beneath the fists
loving pain, gentle brutality
sometimes, glimpses of you emerge
falling rain, glimmering laughter
and I hope for your light
my image in your eyes
my movements in your stance
whispering madness seeps into light
mosquito netting, broken finger
morning grass, afternoon tag
and I remember you
as you were, as you are now
soft folds of a blanket
and the radio hums within the hut
cradled in the softness, protected in the netting
ointment glides on the burn
healing tissue replacing cut
a soft scar in the shadow of forgiveness
and I can see your light
*Update: I just realized I wrote this poem when I was 25 years old and not 22 years old. I wrote a similar poem about my dad at 22, which had a less hopeful tone to it. The one above was written during a Creative Writing course while I was in University.