Wed | May 31, 2023

Meeting Ground – Father’s Day 2022

Published:Sunday | June 19, 2022 | 12:08 AM
Tim Tomlinson with his dad.
Tim Tomlinson with his dad.
Julie Mahfood with her father.
Julie Mahfood with her father.

From the vulnerability of our dads, shown in particular by the first two poems below from Dawes and Tomlinson, we move to various states of absence — the dad who is physically there but perhaps heavy with the weight of adulthood and parenting, who never looks straight into the camera.

Or is always on the edge of the photograph, in Bishop’s case; or is physically and emotionally absent, like the dad of Lennon’s Barrel Children; or painfully snatched from time, like Mahfood’s do-it-all-dad. Running throughout the poems is that love for dad, and in Lennon’s case, the desire to love our dad, that makes this Father’s Day Meeting Ground edition one that has brought me tears. Happy Father’s Day – Ann-Margaret Lim

When Marxists Pray


We gather to pray, passing invocations

around the cramped room, voice after voice

asking for mercy. Today, though, the ritual

atheist silence after the sixth

is broken by his voice,

baritone and tattered

at the edges. He prays

and grows small enough

to believe that a prayer

will turn things around;

small enough, to return, prodigal,

to the quiet chapel on the hill

above his home in Sturge Town,

where sturdier faith thrived

in his proud ancestry.


He prays and the ordinary dwarfs him.

This man shrinks, losing the quixotic

aura of dreams: A cottage, a lovely cottage

in Oxford, my children around me, my poems,

my son healed, cricket every Sunday on the green.

And help us to be a family, help us…

In my weakness, in my splendid weakness.

We say Amen, collect our plates and eat.

Everything tastes like dust.

Kwame Dawes:(Jamaican living in the United States): Impossible Flying, Peepal Tree Press, 2007


At Night, After the Screams

At night, after the screams wake us,

we hear

him make his walk

to the kitchen,


his callused feet scuff

the hardwood floor,

hear him

mutter curses at the carpet,

its curled edge tripping him every time,

hear him go


on the linoleum

of the kitchen


So much is hidden

by our mother,

in closets

behind cans and boxes.

So much that he loves.

Mallomars, Mr. Chips, Hostess Twinkies…

We hear him rummaging,


the cans clinking, the boxes breaking open,

and his hands,

his thick callused hands tearing

through cellophane and plastic packaging.


the refrigerator suck open

its light

seeping through the cracks

of our bedroom doors.

When he stands

in that cold light,

when he upends the milk carton,

when he douses

the fire in his throat,

does he wonder,

as we do,

what made him scream,


this time,

his mother’s name?

Tim Tomlinson: (United States): Requiem for the Tree Fort I Set on Fire, Winter Goose, 2016.


My Father: A Snapshot

I have very few pictures

of him, and whatever

pictures I do have,

are never in focus.

They are as blurry

as my eyes would

eventually become.

This condition

I inherited from him.

My father is the man

who is always

at the edge

of the photograph;

The man who is

barely smiling;

The man who is never

looking straight at the camera.

– Jacqueline Bishop (Jamaican living in the US): Fauna, Peepal Tree Press, 2006


Barrel Children

The barrels are blond with tattoos

of addresses in permanent markers

on their skins. I examine my father’s foreign

handwriting. Hieroglyphic, looping and drunken.

It reads, “From: …Connecticut, U.S.A. To: …Trout

Hall, Jamaica.” Sis, Bro, Mum and I

and the delivery men spirit the barrels up

the thirteen steps to our verandah on this skyless

day. Other Barrel Children in colorful outfits

have sprung up around the yard like sudden flowers

as Mum begins to uncork the barrel, complaining

how Customs snapped off the locks. The inside

of the barrel smells like a pageant contestant, mother

takes each item out slowly, school

books, church shoes, a TV (our first), a walkman,

touching each item as intimately as though

she were touching dad. The giant bags of rice

and flour sit on the bottom like anchors. Mother

puts the top back on the barrel and Sis and Bro

slump a little as a boy in the crowd behind

the hibiscus hedge screams how his father

sent him a bigger TV and alligator-skinned

church shoes. My sister reminds him

that he has never seen his angel

of a father and my brother reminds him that he

hasn’t received a barrel in years. And I,

I pray for the grace and guidance of the missing

sun while looking at the TV like a window

into my father’s world.

Rayon Lennon: (Jamaican living in the US): Poem first published in Barrel Children: Poems by Rayon Lennon, Main Street Rag, online bookstore; 2016

Father’s Day Without You

In my dreams

you are both dead and not dead.

I see you leave for church.

When old friends pass by, I say:

“This is where he used to sit.”

I speak with you in the morning,

to get counsel or just pass the time,

but when I wake you’re gone:

To church, to work, maybe

to go grocery shopping for Mom,

but you’re not here. I go back to sleep.

Julie Mahfood: Jamaican living in Canada