“Grandfather”: A Poem

I never realized how lonely my grandfather might be.
When we visited him last Christmas,
almost a year after my grandmother died,
if he wasn’t watching television or asleep,
he would often choose a volume
from the World Book Encyclopedia
and settle into a chair at the head of the table
and just read.

From time to time he would call out some piece of trivia
to those of us in the next room or as we walked past.
We would smile and nod, pausing briefly
to discuss an entry in the World Book Encyclopedia.

By the early 20th century, over-hunting and loss of habitat in the late 1800s and early 1900s had resulted in a serious decline in the numbers of the Giant Canada Goose in its native range. A subspecies was believed to be extinct in the 1950s until, in 1962, a small flock was discovered wintering in Rochester, Minnesota, by Harold Hanson of the Illinois Natural History Survey.

But who was really interested in talking about that?
I’m not even sure if that’s what he said. A date in history, a war – was that it?
A nation gaining independence, a famous person – was that it?
But who was really interested in talking about that?
And that’s why I should have realized how lonely my grandfather might be.

But I didn’t.

At least not until I was lonely,
and to distract myself I picked up a giant book
about Ansel Adams with only half-genuine interest.
I sat at the table under the lamp in the dark kitchen,
and I read.

Adams avidly read photography magazines, attended camera club meetings, and went to photography and art exhibits. With his Uncle Frank he explored the High Sierra, in summer and winter, developing the stamina and skill needed to photograph at high altitude and under difficult weather conditions.

I accepted and ignored the fact
that I didn’t really care about all that,
because focusing on anything else was better than
focusing on my own quiet sadness.

I remembered my grandfather
and felt somehow connected to him;
like I understood him better,
to some small degree.

Thinking of him, I turned the page.

© 2010


I wrote this poem, which was originally a prose poem (in paragraph form), for a creative writing class. As writers (or, at least, hopeful writing students), we were encouraged to draw upon personal experiences as material for our writing, as is the case with many art forms. The memories of my grandfather, the random encyclopedia articles, the giant Ansel Adams book and the dark kitchen – these are all real things.  I think that poetry is an excellent means of expressing those kinds of memories and feelings; if I were to simply tell someone that I reminded myself of my grandfather, I don’t think it would have the same effect.

I tried to choose just the write words and combinations of words to recount my experience.  Poetry can provide clarity of thought and feeling through its precise language, and I love poems because they are creative considerations of life events, if brief ones at that.  This poem is something I can refer to, something whole and complete that captures and solidifies what would otherwise be vague bits of my life.  My grandfather passed away last May, so perhaps this is a sad memory to cling to. However, this remains one of my favorite poems that came out of that creative writing class.


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