Poet’s Corner: Feela for Father’s Day, Legends of My Fall

Poet’s Corner: Feela for Father’s Day, Legends of My Fall

As we post tributes for Father’s Day, I hold word treasures like this from TIO regular contributor David Feela to my heart. We lost our father on Mothers’ Day, a cruel sleight of Nature since, in my family, we never celebrated Hallmark holidays. Love and respect, my dad taught his girls, should not, could not, be turned on and off like a light switch according to a date on a calendar. David’s tribute to his father, a chip – or slip? – off the old block kind of thing, reminds us how we love them: no matter how or how often they fall, it is rarely from grace. 



A black-and-white, 8 mm movie clip loops in my head: My 94-year-old father is standing on a ladder, pruning the maple in his front yard. The exact time is unclear, because I wasn’t there, so I’ve relied on reports from my siblings, but his last fall gets replayed in my head every autumn as the mountain aspens flicker like pilot lights.

He supported the ladder on the same limb he decided to prune. They both went down, without witnesses. He must have groaned, lost his wind, then sucked a healthy portion of air as he regained the world. Hard to tell, because the film has no sound, and the camera spends too much time zooming in on the top rung of the ladder, magnifying his mistake. 

Foreshadowing can become a heavy-handed technique, a conjurer’s trick that grants mere mortals a glimpse of the god-like power of omniscience. It’s also a kind of artificial intelligence, because it doesn’t exist in our day-to-day lives. If it did, we’d all be frantic to edit the scenes of our most awkward moments. 

Or maybe genetics is nature’s way of hinting about the future. Either way, some of my most breathtaking regrets have been sponsored by missteps and faulty observations.

I should pay closer attention to details. 

Bicycle crashes, tumbles down stairs, stumbling over my discarded shoes –a short list of personal collisions. My third grade teacher, Sister Winifred, reserved a wide butter knife in the school’s freezer so she could minister to my lumps. Apparently prayer proved inadequate when it came to reducing the swelling. 

People unfamiliar with walking beside me occasionally reach out to steady me as one of my ankles folds like a pocket knife. I know (but they don’t) that these unexpected wobbles are just part of my gait, or what I prefer to call “hockey moves.” 

In fairness to my father I should disclose my own blunder. My second story cedar shakes needed to be stained. The sun had bleached them to the color of bone. I deployed my massive extension ladder, the one I can barely carry out of the barn. I locked the rungs in place, leaned the entire contraption against the side of house, grabbed my brush, a bucket of stain, and started the climb toward heaven. 

Either the lawn was damp or the ground too soft, but when I reached the top of the ladder it shifted, started to lean, then slid sideways. That’s how I ended up plummeting, the ladder barely missing me during its descent, shattering a first story window on its way down.

When I hit the grass, all the fall colors flashed in my brain, but what I vividly remember seeing as I managed to roll over onto my back was a pattern like a Rorschach inkblot test that a gallon of redwood stain splashed against the white vinyl siding. Psychologists might have had a field day with that image, interpreting the rationale for my unconscious attraction to death. 

I blame the ladder. 

Not that particular ladder, and not the genetic strand of aluminum twisting all the way back to the one my father unfolded to prune his tree. Any ladder possesses the mojo to shake a climber loose like a dry leaf from an autumn tree. 

My father broke his hip, but because he always resisted doctor offices, nobody knew. He treated himself with aspirins for six weeks until my siblings insisted he seek a medical opinion. X-rays revealed the fracture; an operation repaired it. During his recovery, he was temporarily moved out of his home to an assisted living facility.

He seemed to be doing fine.

When my brother visited they watched a football game in the lounge. Because of a head cold, my brother returned home before the end of the game. My father went back to his room. Care-givers found him on the floor, gone, only five days before the winter solstice. They assumed his heart had given out, that perhaps the stress of surgery followed by his body’s attempted recovery had taken its toll on his old ticker.

Nobody could say for sure.

I still blame the ladder.

1 Comment
  • Art Goodtimes
    Posted at 11:31h, 16 June

    David Feela is as fine an essayist as we have on the Western Slope. And a superb poet. This, story — sad, poignant, full of love — is one to treasure.