The year that my father died, I took him three Christmas gifts.
He was living alone at the time, quite depressed, and although we didn’t normally exchange gifts I thought a few little presents might cheer him up a little.
He was mortified when he saw the (poorly) wrapped presents and protested, “But I didn’t get you anything!”
“I don’t need anything. Just open ’em.”
He hesitated for a moment and then opened the first. It was a CD of Chopin’s nocturnes. He nodded and said, “Thanks. I like Chopin.”
“Yeah, so do I.”
“I know you do, because I’m the one that introduced you to him.”
You’re welcome, dad.
The second was also a CD. This one was “Cure for Pain” by Morphine.
He looked at me over his glasses and said, “Morphine? What the f— is this?”
“Just listen to it. You might like it.”
He stared at me for a moment longer and put the disc aside. “Alright. I’ll listen to it later.”
Then, the third gift. This one I had been saving since the previous spring; I was especially proud of it, and it was difficult to hold on to it for so long.
I’d gone to Drumcliff on Daffodil Day and made a charcoal rubbing of the gravestone of W. B. Yeats. Just his name. I then painstakingly wrote around the rubbing the final lines of “Under Ben Bulben”;
“Under bare Bulben’s head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid.
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago, a church stands near,
By the road, an ancient cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase;
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut;
Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!”
I put it in a frame. I thought he’d be delighted.
And he was. When he saw the charcoal rubbing, he grinned from ear to ear; his eyes watered a little, and then he began reading the poem. He was silent for a while, and then said;
“Thank you. This is great. But you really need to work on your poetry.”
I couldn’t contain myself and started laughing.
“It’s Yeats, dad! ”
To his credit, he showed only a second of embarrassment before saying, “I know that, you sonofabitch! Yeats needed to work on his poetry, too!”
Too late for Yeats.
A couple of days later, he rang me up.
“You know, that Morphine album isn’t half bad; some of it reminds me of Leonard Cohen. There’s a poet for you.”
“Yeah, I like Leonard Cohen.”
“I know you do, because I introduced you to him.”
You’re welcome, dad.
And thank you.