Poetry

Happy Birthday, Dad

Photo of a sky, lake, silhouetted trees, and a boathouse. The sky takes up most of the photo and is full of dark, tumultuous-looking clouds. The trees, water, and boathouse are shrouded in shadow.

Content note: this piece deals with addiction, abuse, and intergenerational trauma.


I wish my father a happy birthday.
He tells me he’s drinking again,
And that he hardly heard from anyone.
I can only ever write poems about him.

Write back, he always says.
His emails come quickly, contain hardly anything.
Write back, he always says.
Write back.

I have to come up with more to say, more that I can share.
There are so few safe topics to choose from.
He wants to see me. I don’t know if I can let him.
Just a few years ago, seeing him on the street would send me reeling—
Running, hiding, heart pounding, panic swelling.
I don’t know if he ever saw me run away.

I don’t know how to write that fear into a poem,
And perhaps this is where I fail as a poet.

I never thought I would speak to him again,
Never expected to write to him.
Five years of estrangement passed,
And then I did.
Something within me shifted.
Words like abuser, monster, Jekyll, and Hyde
Moved over to the side—
Making room for
Illness, sickness, and intergenerational trauma.
It took five years for my fear to begin melting,
For my anger to start eroding,
Revealing layers and layers of fresh-cut
Pain,
Confusion,
Compassion.

Write back, he always says.
Get your brother to write to me,
And write back.
Write back.
Write back.

What more can I say, Dad?