89: Toast to My Dead Parents by Robert Cording

My parents worshipped at the altar

of the present, each moment

an opportunity for bickering,

for one of them, in their elaborate game

of cat-and-mouse—Didn’t you say

it was going to rain today?

Who put the salt and pepper here,

it’s gone in the cabinet above the stove

for sixty years—to gain a slight advantage.


They were entertaining, their fights

like tickets to the Amusement Park

we could never afford.

My father, who liked wordplay,

said they were keeping things fresh.

They said good morning

in myriad phrases—the eggs are dry,

you burnt the English muffing again,

where did you put my pills?
That got the morning going like the cuckoo

popping out of the Black Forest

kitchen clock to jeeringly announce

the hour that was an hour too late,

each blaming the other for oversleeping.


It was, I guess, in its sad, crazy

destructive way, a form of communication.

My brothers and I never understood

their day-long bickering, nor that

nagging devotion to each other,

one of them unfailingly present

at the others’ bedside in sickness.

They never complained about money,

lived happily by the house rule of enough,

as in whatever we have is enough,

yet seemed always to be in need

of something that wasn’t to be had—

something intangible they wanted

to hold with their hands, or be

able to say with the fluency of words

which never came, or came

garbled and incompletely, or twisted

whatever they were looking for

into another insult.


Their bickering grew less playful,

more cat batting a half-dead mouse

back and forth between its paws,

as they tried to ward off

the clock-tick of dying’s boredom.

They certainly kept things fresh,

the freedom of destruction, I guess,

better than some quiet descent

into death. And so, dear parents, I toast you,

toast all those words volleyed back and forth,

the two of you filled with some great need

that could never be fully met,

true believers in all that might be

that never was, hopeless

romantics to the bitter end.



The author’s work can be found in the volume, Only So Far.

Think about how the poem made you feel. Does this parental dynamic ring at all true to your experience? Do you ever catch yourself wondering why certain people stay together – how their incompatibility could possibly be better than being alone?

May you live out another beautiful poem in the collection of your life today, and we’ll see you again tomorrow.

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