My father is a machine mechanic. He’s good at taking things apart, figuring out what’s wrong with them, and putting them back together. He hated high school and never went to college. He has no use for grammar, punctuation, or pretty storylines. He has one book: a huge, yellow encyclopedia of auto parts and problems.
And despite his absolute disinterest in the arts, he wholeheartedly supports me. He is my biggest fan. He has kept every piece of writing I’ve ever created, right down to the kindergarten thumbprint stamps made to look like frogs with the sloppy, struggling signature of my first name. He says he’s just waiting for me to publish a book now.
He can fix any stuck gear, any broken lever, any oil leak, any wire shortage. But perhaps the thing he knows like the back of his calloused, worn hands – the thing that he can fix without ever trying – is me. When I crashed my car, he was the one in the ambulance that I wish I could remember; he was the one who stayed by my side in the hospital. When my old boyfriend cheated on me, I bought lighter fluid to burn up the box of stuff I had from him. My dad beat me to it, and all my crying turned into laughter in front of that fire. When I finally caved every couple months and went to visit my mother, I always came home crying and he was always prepared to build me back up and tell me that what she did wasn’t my fault. When I ruined the first dozen meals I ever cooked, he ate every bite like it was the best he’d ever had. When I visit home, there always seems to be a little envelope of money hidden somewhere in my bags when I get back to Binghamton. And when I call him panicking that I can’t do something, he convinces me I can.
We have a notebook on the kitchen table that we use to write to each other every day (when I’m home, that is; I live in Binghamton during the school year and occasionally we mail notes back and forth) and mostly, we communicate through that. He works twelve-hour days, sometimes eight. At home, I work two jobs. Our schedules are opposite; I go to bed when he gets up. And for every moment that he isn’t there, we have the notebook and it’s just as good.
It’s this magical thing that he knows exactly what to say, whether it’s in a note or on the spot. He has never once said the wrong thing. My mother was the writer, the one who was good at English. But I swear, if I have any power with words, I got it from my dad.
I was raised by a man of few words
A man who often misspelled those words
But saved me over and over again
A man who worked all day and came home,
Covered in grease
Every night to teach his daughter.
“Spell ‘because,’” I remember him saying,
Looking at the book, following each letter
Teaching me how to write and read
Words he himself didn’t know.
When I got older, and my mother had left
The note read
“flowr, egg, milk”
That’s how you bread the chicken.
“Dont let the bull shit get to you,
This aint your fault Audrey
I love you so much what else can I say”
That’s how you heal a wound.
Do what ever you want to do
Go to what ever school you want
Dont worry about the money”
That’s how you sacrifice for your kid.
A man who often misspelled those words
A man who saved me over and over again
With those words.
He crumbles up papers, throwing them in the trash
“Audrey, will you write this letter for me?
It’s important and your handwriting is better;
You spell everything right,” he says.
My hand effortlessly, properly
Jots the words
Just as he taught me to as a child.
“You’re a great writer,” he always says.
It’s funny because
I was raised by man of few words
And he is
The greatest writer I know.
What my father says is much more important to me than grammatical correctness. He does not need to know how to spell one single word to move me.
My wish for all of you is that you are never afraid to write no matter how flawed you think your writing may be. It can be hard to relax and not feel stilted by the idea that our writing must be perfect. There is so much freedom in writing, especially in poetry. Beginning is always the hard part, but if you focus on what you have to say instead of how to say it perfectly, it is a lot easier. There is only one requirement for writing, and that is heart.
I challenge you to write a poem without limiting yourself. I suggest writing a poem about a fond memory or someone you love, something that will let your heart take over.
If you have a story about your own kind of kitchen notebook – letters, notes, lists – or are comfortable sharing a poem you’ve written, please leave them in the comments section. I would love to read them.
Spring 2015 Intern