Original image by Sabine van Straaten on Unsplash

Losing My Dad

The following poem series describes the grief after a father’s suicide. They are part of a series in which the poet looks back at his childhood, but also to recent years when the poet estranged from his father during his deepening depression and alcoholism. Losing your parent is a hallmark of life, but suicide is not a natural event. At the time, the press announced that 21 veterans died daily in the US.

Prophetic Moment Summer 2017

Thirteen hundred feet per second
Is a bullet’s muzzle velocity.
Don’t wish for death’s speed.
A lot of thoughts un-thought can still tunnel skull,
Curl into gray organ, spark synaptic music,
And take action as hard as boxers’ fists.
Forget the chair by the bottle of Scotch.
Take a kingdom, and, if you’re alone,
Find a king, queen, serfs, and squires,
All the parts a life lived has to have.
Tight heart between two tar filled sacks
Don’t give up! Be brave, idiot,
Dash the clocks and torch the calendars.
Your watch will look better if
Worn by the lake bottom than if
You drive off the dam into it.
Ram files into the barrels of the
12 gauge, the Winchester, and the pistol.
Toss the gunpowder brass to the trashcan.
You have a son and two grandchildren
Just a plane ticket away.

“My Son Tred Always Follow Father’s Footsteps,” by Theodor Severin Kittelsen

Singing for Harley Landon Wills

Memory returns this to me:
You tapped a foot
And sang to rock ‘n’ roll,
But low so I’d not hear,
Though I saw lips moving.

People called your phone,
And I answered. They
Thought I was you, our
Voices near identical
To their unfamiliar ears.

You took your life
From us to give yourself
Relief from hidden pains
You’d have done better to
Share with love for your loves.

Tapping my feet to rock
‘N’ roll, now I sing
Loud so my son and daughter
Hear. If our voices
Were identical, your grandkids
Hear your voice on my breath.

Original image by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Father’s Day

The stores stock up on socks,
Ties, things for men in your life,
Like BBQ utensils and Craftsman tools,
But what do you get the man
You hardly know?
What if this man wasn’t there
For games you played on fields,
Driving lessons, opened report cards?
And he never busted you
For bad grades, backtalk,
Or staying out past curfew
To TP someone’s house?
The divorce was so long ago
You don’t have a memory of him
And mom and you together.
The makers of cards for Father’s Day
Write jokes or rhyming couplets
For the dad who plays or the dad who cries,
For the dad who fixes or the dad who snores,
Cards from nieces and nephews,
Or wives and moms to give to men
Not their fathers,
But which card is the one
For the man you wish you knew
Not the one you saw
Summers and every other Christmas?
As an adult with children you see daily,
You still don’t see that man ever,
And you call him without a call back
And you write him letters without replies
And you think of him alone in his house
And you wonder if he’ll ever come visit
And your kids don’t know his name or face
And your wife asks why you keep trying
And you ask your mom why he’s that way
And you hear mom say that’s just him
And you want to be irate or depressed
And you ask yourself if you should keep trying
And you’re a man and a father,
But where’s your man and father?


Repaired hoses and wires
With brown square fists cramped into
Tight engines to screw them fast
Thick fingers came away fouled
With black grease
“Be sure to watch carefully”

In the kitchen dad stood
Over the counter a field of flour
From a bowl with a large ball of dough
His hands pulled portions
To flatten with the rolling pin
Pasties per the family recipe
“It’s important for you to know”

The garage was a sawdust wonderland
Dad measured and penciled the mark
Laid wood to table saw and ripped it
Sawdust snowed and drifted the concrete floor
The doghouse came together
“Measure twice cut once”

Dad crouched in the quarry
In early morning hours
“This was your uncle’s”
His hand slid along blued metal
To correct the hold the aim
Back to fore to target pop
“It takes practice”

Original image by Carlos Lindner on Unsplash

Camouflage Jacket

The veterans stare at me.
I don’t wear this jacket as fashion.
It was my dad’s decades ago
When he was proud and strong
Though he felt ashamed and wronged.
At the top of his sleeves were sewn
Insignias for units, with one
He fought and flew in Vietnam,
The 1st Aviation Brigade,
And the other, the 1st Cav Division,
With them he ended his service.
Upon the epaulets the rank, a bar
With three black squares,
On the left breast, above the square
Pocket, the up-curled pilot wings
And on the right our family name.
The veterans stare at me.
I don’t wear this jacket as fashion.
This is my heritage, my link
To the shell-shocked alcoholic,
To the uncommunicative spirit, whose
Deeds he neither forgot nor shared
Until a final shell stopped the thudding
Of his sorrowing heart. This jacket
Of camouflage, it is my right
To wear and that of my son’s
And his son’s. We’ve the only right.

Shay Wills is an army brat who lived throughout the US and Europe. He graduated from the University of Arizona with a BA in English and Creative Writing. A divorced dad of two teens, when he isn’t working at a wellness resort in Tucson, he hikes, does yoga, reads, drinks too much Starbucks, and writes. He self-published his first novel, Our Lives for Others, in 2014 and has poetry appearing in Bending Genres, Poets Choice, Under the Basho, Wingless Dreamer, and The Closed Eye Open. Entering a new phase in life, he returned to school for a master’s in clinical counseling to help veterans with the array of issues they face.

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