"Bach and My Father"
by Paul Zimmer
Six days a week my father sold shoes
To support our family through depression and war,
Nursed his wife through years of Parkinson's,
Loved nominal cigars, manhattans, long jokes,
Never kissed me, but always shook my hand.
Once he came to visit me when a Brandenburg
Was on the stereo. He listened with care—
Brisk melodies, symmetry, civility, and passion.
When it finished, he asked to hear it again,
Moving his right hand in time. He would have
Risen to dance if he had known how.
"Beautiful," he said when it was done,
My father, who'd never heard a Brandenburg.
Eighty years old, bent, and scuffed all over,
Just in time he said, "That's beautiful."
My Aunt Julie is dying. She is barely retired. Too young like my father her brother. We saw her in March and April, and she met her great-niece. We probably won't get a chance to see her again before the end, new parenthood and work schedules being what they are. Cancer is devouring her organs one by one, now cleaning its teeth with slivers of her bone and patting its greasy belly. She has called upon Hospice. I think of Julie every day now and try not to feel a bottomless sadness about her dying. I try to think about the fact that she has heard beauty every day of her life as a musician, piano and voice teacher, conductor, director, artist, mentor. I remember the sound of her laughter when she throws back her head in delight, eyes glimmering with mischief about a joke or trick or double entendre. And I know that these are the things I will remember later. Joy will be her legacy.