Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Going-In Bell by Robert Demaree

Still tacked to the closet door
At the cottage that my parents built
On Rust Pond in ’56:
The daily schedule of the tutoring camp
Where my father taught,
Dittoed purple letters faintly legible.

Rising bell 6:45 a.m.
He would walk along the shore
For breakfast and then his class,
Joined with kind, unbookish lads,
Now, too, long departed,
In their struggle with the preterite.

He returned from Puerto Rico in 1926
A teacher of Spanish,
And so he remained the rest of his days,
Never seeking to do anything else,
Not department head or dean—
Well, I don’t know that,
Ambitions, disappointments
Not evident to a child.

A Republican from Indiana,
Of a kind no longer extant,
He once made a small donation
To the campaign of Gerald Ford,
But in the ’30s had passed out leaflets
For the Lincoln Brigade,
Which has made us admirers of
Aaron Copland.

Going-in bell 7:15 a.m.
My parents came back from Mexico
In 1936 with postcards by
Diego Rivera.
Years later, Dad explained to me
The moral roots of the
Inheritance tax.
He would enjoy a glass or two of sherry
And talk about Miguel de Unamuno
And the Generation of ’98.
He was sent by the Chicago Tribune
To cover a gangland hit in
Cicero, Illinois,
And played the horses in Paris in the ’20s.
So in the years of my growing up
In boarding school dormitories
Those days of excitement seemed
Behind him.
We did not toss a baseball
Back and forth.
We did go to Shibe Park
To watch the A’s,
Those sad second-division heroes,
The occasional double play—
Joost to Suder to Fain,
Their pictures taped to my window.

Sitting-down bell 7:20 a.m.
The apartment at The Hill School
Was our home, part of my father’s pay.
So the cottage in New Hampshire
Was the first real estate
They’d ever owned.
I cleared the land
The summer he had a hernia.
The pine paneling has darkened
As if from the pigment of memory.
Our grandchildren are fixing lunch.
Beth sits by the window
Where my dad used to sit,
Drinking coffee,
Smoking his cigarette.

Lights out, 10:00 p.m.
These are not good days in boarding schools,
Learning little, it seems, from the church.
I remember some of Dad’s colleagues
As a bit odd but surely not predators,
Though that could be the naiveté of the time
Or of a son.
Girls finally came to the school and to the camp,
His last classes were co-ed,
Changes coming, in which he would not take part.

He continued to fish
(Small-mouth bass, which my mother
With some reluctance fried in deep fat);
Played the piano by ear,
In the manner of Jelly Roll Morton;
And smiled sweetly at my mother’s kin.
I remember the morning when
He could no longer balance his checkbook.
For several years
We tried to hold at arm’s length
That most outrageous of diseases.
In the hospital, he held on
For his granddaughter to return
From Europe. Oh, goody, he said,
And the wavy amber line went flat.

I recall being miffed
When the school history did not make more
Of his service. I have come to see
His great achievement was in doing
Small things quietly and well,
And with the great kindness
Of which Nemerov spoke.
The limousine approached
The small graveside service,
My mother frail,
Clutching my arm.

Robert Demaree is the author of four book-length collections of poems, including Other Ladders, published in June 2017 by Beech River Books. His poems received first place in competitions sponsored by the Poetry Society of New Hampshire and the Burlington Writers Club, and have appeared in over 150 periodicals. A retired educator, he resides in Wolfeboro, N.H. and Burlington, N.C.

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