Hall to McNair: March 25, 1982

Letter from Hall to McNair, 03-25-1982, Page 1

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25 March 1982

Wes McNair
Box 43
North Sutton, NH 03260

Dear Wes,

Well, you just cannot lose at Poetry. Only one this time,
but you cannot knock it.

And on the other hand, I am not happy with the father poem.
I think the end is just beautiful, and you have to start nearer
it probably. But there are all sorts of strange awkwardnesses
and inadequacies I think. You say “had you gone/ over and over,”
so that it is ambiguous, as if the act of leaving took place over
and over again, whereas I believe you mean the asking about it…
And then when you say “some world beyond my reach” you have two
clichés together, the world, and the physical reading business…
two dead metaphors, the commentary of “the worst/ of it…” and
then other things, all along in there in the middle, and I don’t
think that your language is much good, it seems slack… More
thinking! More feeling…more setting aside. Sorry about that.
But I really feel strongly about it, and I feel strongly that
you will feel it too. You are very rarely ever slack – so I
suspect that this poem is just emotionally a tough one.

Best as ever,


Editorial note about this letter: Below is the poem Don questions in his letter, leading me to put it aside. Still, I knew by the depth of feeling I had reached in “To My Father” that it would be an important poem for me if I could ever sort out the material it contained. Though I never completed the poem, “To My Father” turned out to be crucial, its themes and images resurfacing years later in my long narrative, “My Brother Running,” and in poems I wrote afterward, particularly “Weeds.”

To My Father

Your were so tall your loved face
moved across ceilings. Your voice,
a cigarette’s light, floated
high in my bedroom’s dark. This is why,
after I asked mother had you gone
over and over, it seemed right
to think of you floating
and moving in some world beyond
my reach, why when you came back
twenty years later, I was so down.
You were not supposed to be
who you were: shorter than me,
slightly drunk and, the worst
of it, unable to see the difference
between living in the high world
I had imagined, and just
saying you did. And yet tonight,
having dealt with all the expectations
of the world and my own sons,
I don’t quite think of you
as a failed father, but more
like me, lost in a patch of weeds
and doing the best you could with it.
So I write this poem partly for me,
Partly just in case where you are now
they read, to say that in the end
of your booze-ridden life,
when your eyesight and second family
gave out at the same time
and, having no story left
in your crazy head, you lay down
on your back yard to plant seeds
you could hardly see, I wish
I had stood in that darkness,
as you once stood for me,
to tell you that I saw the garden
you meant, the bright flowers blooming
everywhere, no matter if weeds should grow,
no matter if, by some accident of timing,
you should not be there to tend it.