I Wish My Father

  • Review
By – June 28, 2021

Award-win­ning writer Lesléa New­man has writ­ten a new­ly pub­lished col­lec­tion of poems, I Wish My Father, a com­pan­ion to her book I Car­ry My Moth­er (pub­lished in 2015, also by Head­mistress Press). I Wish My Father paints a lyri­cal por­trait of Newman’s father, cen­ter­ing on the last years of his life through nar­ra­tive, dia­logue-dri­ven poems.

Dur­ing the last years of her parent’s lives, New­man finds her­self in the role of care­giv­er. These poems speak to the com­mon strug­gles that adult chil­dren face when cop­ing with aging par­ents. The con­ver­sa­tions between the speak­er and her father are heart­felt and inti­mate, shed­ding light on the expe­ri­ence of watch­ing the men­tal and phys­i­cal decline of a cher­ished parent.

New­man strug­gles with wit­ness­ing the pain and loss that her father endures, and she notes how aging impacts the way he inter­acts with oth­ers, in some­times embar­rass­ing, some­times humor­ous ways. In the poems Did You Go to City Col­lege?” and Who’s That?”, New­man shows how her father’s wit­ty, con­fi­dent atti­tude reflects the way he once moved through the world. She also describes how he holds on to his stub­born ways and won’t lis­ten to his daughter’s good-natured advice. He insists on act­ing like his for­mer youth­ful self. In the poem Pain in the Ass” she states that he would rather break 100 copiers / than admit he need­ed help.” In the end, it pains her to hear him final­ly admit, Your old man is falling apart.” His descent into mem­o­ry and hear­ing loss is excru­ci­at­ing for both of them.

All of the poems’ titles bleed into the first line of the poem, one moment eas­i­ly lead­ing into the next. New­man also for­mats the poems the same way with three-line stan­zas that build the sto­ry of her father’s last years while also lin­ger­ing on the past. When her father final­ly acqui­esces to his neurologist’s sug­ges­tion of quit­ting his job and giv­ing up dri­ving, New­man recalls in The Sec­ond Time We Vis­it” her late mother’s real­iza­tion that the sad­dest thing in the world is get­ting what you want.” New­man want­ed her father to stop dri­ving and focus more on his health instead of work­ing, but once this becomes a real­i­ty, she sees the sad­ness in her father’s face, how he stares straight / ahead with­out speak­ing,” and she feels the weight of watch­ing him lose the things in life that gave him joy.

New­man writes about how dif­fi­cult it was for her father to lose his wife of six­ty-three years. When it is time for him to live alone, he los­es many of the rou­tines cul­ti­vat­ed over a life­time; leav­ing his proud­ly-owned home was like aban­don­ing a part of him­self. In Did You Hap­pen to Speak,” she writes of her par­ents’ rela­tion­ship, He made the mon­ey, she spent it.” Ulti­mate­ly, New­man con­cludes that every­thing he’s ever worked for / amount[ed] to noth­ing / but this one lousy / done deal,” refer­ring to the fact that he was no longer a provider for a wife and fam­i­ly. Newman’s poems allow the read­er to take part in these father-daugh­ter con­ver­sa­tions, a mov­ing reflec­tion on grief and love.

Jamie Wendt is the author of the poet­ry col­lec­tion Fruit of the Earth (Main Street Rag, 2018), which won the 2019 Nation­al Fed­er­a­tion of Press Women Book Award in Poet­ry. Her man­u­script, Laugh­ing in Yid­dish, was a final­ist for the 2022 Philip Levine Prize in Poet­ry. Her poems and essays have been pub­lished in var­i­ous lit­er­ary jour­nals and antholo­gies, includ­ing Fem­i­nine Ris­ingGreen Moun­tains Review, Lilith, Jet Fuel Review, the For­ward, Poet­i­ca Mag­a­zine, and oth­ers. She con­tributes book reviews to Jew­ish Book Coun­cil as well as to oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, includ­ing Lit­er­ary Mama and Mom Egg Review. She has received an Hon­or­able Men­tion Push­cart Prize and was nom­i­nat­ed for Best Spir­i­tu­al Lit­er­a­ture. She holds an MFA in Cre­ative Writ­ing from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Nebras­ka Oma­ha. She is a mid­dle school Human­i­ties teacher and lives in Chica­go with her hus­band and two kids. 

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