Today marks the Second Annual Brigid in Cyberspace Silent poetry reading. (Good name) Last year I shared some of the work of my favourite poet. (I have a few others, like Edna St. Vincent Millay, Isabella Valancy Crawford, Daisy Zamora or other women with long or unusual names.) This poet however, continues to capture my imagination, mostly because I find him a person who is frequently a surprise.
This poet, Joseph Dunphy, is my father-in-law.
If there were a contest that I held in the world, a contest to pick sensible men, my father-in-law would be a fine contender. He makes good decisions. He manages money well. He is responsible. He is the sort of man who knows how to fix a leak quickly and will not swear while he does it. He will also not sweat. I have never heard him raise his voice. He wears clean clothes. He exercises regularly, wouldn’t wear an un-ironed shirt, listens to the radio, and does not waste time. He is respected by his co-workers and excels at his job. He is a dearly loved father and husband. If you look up the word “steadfast” in the dictionary, Joe Sr. is there.
I understand now that I am making him sound boring, and for that I’m very sorry, because Joe Sr (like the Joe Jr I married) is one of the least boring men that has ever lived. He is not at all what he seems. In exchange for putting in the time to get to know him, you can find out some pretty remarkable things. Like he found a way to finagle himself the purchase of some hand knit socks I did not make. Like he would only eat leftovers if you let him. I think he would eat pickled anything. A huge passion lies in him for St. John’s harbour. He’s a little weird about the fridge and though he has little to say in person, he’s pretty verbose on the phone. One time early in our relationship he called me cross-Canada about some video on MTV he was watching, made me change the channel and watch it with him and then wanted to discuss the fact that some of the people in the video were naked and dancing. It was like being transported to some alternate universe, considering that up until then most of our conversations had been me babbling like an idiot and him saying “Alright then.”
Inexplicable. The biggest discovery was finding out that he was writing poetry. Good poetry. Tons of it. Working at it, researching it….passionate, loving, enormously gripping thoughtful poetry. I think the whole family was speechless. It was like having your favourite rock, a good sturdy rock, suddenly split open and reveal a universe of sparkling gems. Who knew?
Well, one person maybe. (Though I think she was pretty stunned herself.) Carol, his wife. Carol and I share something in common, something that the rest of the family will wonder at, I think. We are both married (she to the father, me to the son) to deeply, deeply odd men, men as odd as fish, who are not at all what they seem. At all.
Joe (both Sr and Jr) tromp around the world doing their business in their own strange ways, looking for all the world like one kind of man, while revealing only in the intimacy of their closest, most secret relationships…these otherworldly surprises. Men who seem brusque are tender, men who occasionally appear too private are found to be close personal friends with a hamster, and men who do little or no public revealing are found to be writing very good poetry. In honour of that, the stunning element of surprise in some people, Joe Dunphy (the senior) is this year’s poet. Again.
The house gets a fresh coat
Of paint every fall, even though
I am old. It helps me to recall
Amid the waning light
Mother at the stove, steam rising
From soups and stews, and water boiling
The brook running, gurgling,
The water hoop, the metal tub
In the kitchen, her hands in my hair.
Father reaming the stem
Of his pipe with a stiff bristle,
Flat cut strips of tobacco nestled
Lightly in a blue tin,
His hand cupped loosely round the bowl
The matchbox tamping, the silver spoon.
How, after rosary, when
The pipe was lit and mother slipped
Stitches on smooth needles, they would talk
Of black backs glistening in
Ice-green waters, fine mists falling,
Ripe fruits lying low in the fen, sweet
In dappled days now gone
For them and me. So, I paint it
Yellow, it reminds me of sunshine!