Elegy for the Stepfather

Aug 7, 2020

Today’s poem is “Elegy for the Stepfather” by Bruce Willard. Bruce’s poems have appeared in Ploughshares, The Harvard Review and other journals. He has published 2 collections of poems, Holding Ground (2013) and Violent Blues (2016) both published by Four Way Books. His 3rd collection, In Light of Stars, is due out from Four Way Books in 2021. He lives in Maine, Colorado and California.

He writes “… the man who became my son’s stepfather suddenly and tragically died and I was overcome with a mix of conflicting emotions. After years of resenting the guy who – through no choice of mine – had half the days with my son, I felt something much more complex. This poem grew out of that process of discovery the way engaging poems often do -  a sense of gratitude from loss, a feeling of deep appreciation from what was initially anger. The poem turned on the notion of fathering for which sailing was an agile image and grew in its paradoxes and surprises as I wrote it. Where it ended up, surprised me with the kind of contradictions I strive for."

Elegy for the Stepfather
by Bruce Willard

Only a month ago I imagined sailing with him
on the ketch he built.  His oversized hands
on the tiller.  Sails fathered by a sou’west breeze.

He, who came like a front into my home
and stole my wind a decade ago.
Who gave it back in the way he tendered my son.
Trimmed the parts that were neither his nor mine
alone to love. 

This strange, familial wind we rode and shared,
separated us, paired us on tack, 
only to separate us again.

Becalmed, I miss him now,
just the small boat of his ashes left.
These storms which have no names,
the ghostly calm
which leaves no wake.

"Elegy for the Stepfather" Copyright ©  from Holding Ground (c) 2013 by Bruce Willard. Appears with the permission of Four Way Books. All rights reserved.