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The Good Fathers
Our bodies painted red by the dawn sky,
our hair stuck up in cockscombs from sleeping,
we two snuck down to the rowboats.
We wobbled across the lake toward the lily ponds
to gather blooms for our mothers. What a big boy!
What a big girl! they would exclaim upon our return.
We tugged up the white blush flowers with roots so long,
till the bottom of our boat was filled to the bow.
And as we turned toward home the rain began.
Then fog threw back its hood and roared; and we rowed.
The waves turned black, and we rowed.
We lost first one oar and then the other; and we cried out,
Our thin night clothes stamped with cowboys and stars
went transparent like tattoos all over our pale blue
and we cried out, Mother! Father! God! Help us!

As Death put its hands over our eyes, suddenly the fog
was pierced. Leaping and bucking came
a battered wooden boat filled with four phantoms,
rowing and rowing like madmen,
their faces distorted by rain and rage, eight oars
slugging the roiling waters over and over,
and they were calling out our names, bellowing
over the storm, Hold on! Hold on! We are coming for
Vessel crashed into vessel, and big wet hands flailed
till two wraiths of the lake rolled into our boat.
They hooked oars into iron stocks, tethered the boats,
and we crouched beneath the phantom rowers’ arms
as they rowed, cursing words we did not know,
as they rowed through the heavy drapes of rain and
and with every hit of swash, lilies spewed overboard,
floating and drowning in the spume behind us.

And when at last our vessels ran into the soft slough,
and the rain went sideways,
the gray-faced phantoms grabbed us up, snagging
long ropey roots and green-heart leaves
and dangling white lilies as well.
With us in arms they strove up the howling hill,
holding us hard against their bony breasts,
shielding our faces with their hands.
And then finally, in the sudden heat from the open door
they bowed their heads like horses, offering us
held out like armfuls of heavy wild bouquets,
-- two trembling children covered with broken
flowers --
delivered into the arms of the weeping women.

When I dream of that time so long ago, though in years
intervening, there would be at least one long year
of silence, one of forgetfulness, and
one of forgiveness, even so -- in that one despond
of fog and rain and waves, these flares remain lit --
the men
who rowed the boat,
the men
who climbed the hill,
the men
who carried us toward home …
the uncles, the brothers, the fathers
who despite their imperfections,
did not forsake The Heart of God --
that is, a child stranded in the storm --
these souls, all of them, now anointed forever
with the waters from the tempests they have braved,
now anointed forever by the fragrance of the wild lilies
they have, with great effort, carried up from out of the
dark …

-- Clarissa Pinkola Estés

The Bad Fathers

The first worst thing
I ever heard a man say,
came from a father who
had raped his little six year old son.
The father said the boy had “...asked to be raped,”
because the child “...was acting
so seductive,
running around in his underwear,
showing his legs
and everything.”
This was the worst,
the very worst.
I have never come closer
to giving a death screech
and asking for the world
to be destroyed,
and for God
to seriously consider
never recreating the world,
or us,
ever again.

The second worst thing,
equal to the first worst thing,
I ever heard a father say was,
“Yes, I hit my boy
over and over
until he was like a rat
beat to jelly.
That’s the way you do it.”
He thought if he caused pus
to leak into his boy’s veins,
it would freeze into something
called “manhood.”

I can hardly write
on this page the words
these two fathers said.
But, they bear writing,
so that any child
might know,
that this kind of father
is not only dead mad, but
also dead wrong,
so that children
might know that they are
never meant to be
a donor child
for either parent,
not meant under any circumstances
to be a blood sacrifice to, of, or for, the family;
to, of, or for, any nation;
to, of, or for, any unjust authority.

To the sons and daughters of parents
devoured by such demons,
Listen to me --
a father who believes these things
is sick to the very core.
Sick beyond belief.
Sick almost beyond understanding.
What these parents say,
is not only not true,
it is not even true
in Hell.

--Clarissa Pinkola Estés

2002 in Poetry

2001 in Poetry

2000 in Poetry

1999 in Poetry

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National Catholic Reporter, May 10, 2002