My Father, Humming – Jonathan Gillman

(Reviewed by Pat Luboff)

I first opened My Father, Humming randomly to page 24, and read “Down the Stairs”. Then I wept, a deep long weeping. I was home for a quick stop of showering and gathering things before returning to my husband’s side where he was fighting to come back to life in a rehab center. The poem hit me exactly where I was; the caretaker of a disabled husband whom I have loved for many, many years. It was a perfectly painted intimate portrait of my own experience, expressed in simple, clear, flowing words. For that poem alone, the book is worth picking up.

Down the Stairs

My father’s going
downstairs to bed,
my mother helping.
It looks like a disaster
waiting to happen–
tied together by a rope
running from waist to waist–
like the invisible tether
which has bound them for so long
neither can remember
a time before
when they were free
to fall on their own.

Excited about the prospects of reading the rest of the poems, I began at the beginning and didn’t stop until I got to the end. It did not take a lot of time. All of the poems were clear, accurate, emotional, and easy-to-read. Jonathan Gillman’s poems chronicle a father-son relationship from the poet’s childhood, through his father’s decline and death, to the aftermath.

I read some of the poems aloud to my husband and he said, “He sounds angry.” Yes, it feels like the poet is angry; angry that his Dad was strict, critical, complaining, unappreciative of his devoted wife and now declining into death with no closure to speak of on the issues troubling the poet due to a lifetime of enduring his father’s foibles. There’s a lot of sadness, too; regret for what never was and what is being lost and what that means.

Supposedly, salvation comes at the end, with the post-death connection through music. But, since the overall tone of the poems is dissatisfaction, the resolution strikes a bit of a false note for me. Still, for anyone going through the particularly mystifying maze of dealing with a loved one who is declining in health or dying, these poems can be the key to unlocking your tears and freeing you from the stress of the situation.

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