A Famous Man

My Dad died many years ago and I wrote this poem a few months after he died.  I haven’t looked at it in many years, but this year it spoke to me again.  Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

“A famous man is one whose children love him.”


You left this earth

while I was sleeping

thousands of miles away

in one of your favorite cities,

Munich, the heart of Bavaria.

It took 24 hours for them

to track me down

before the call came.

They told me

your heart had exploded.

They tried for an hour

to bring you back

but you were gone

as I slept across the ocean

dreaming of Rhineland castles,

fairy tale villages,

and BMWs.

I had often wondered

how I might react

to such a loss.

I had studied the TV faces

of victims many times,

the mother of a mangled child,

the wife of a terrorist’s target,

the son of a doomed traveler,

but nothing had prepared me

for this —

your death.


It took me 24 hours

to get home.

I waited in airports

as they searched

for signs of terrorism

on those about to board.

They did not find

any terror on me.

Those eternal hours

of traveling alone;

I had to keep the loss,

the madness, inside me.

I was so afraid that if I let them,

my insides would come spilling out:

organs, blood, bone, and heart,

that heart made from yours.

And so I sat, buckled into

my window seat,

quietly choking back any emotion,

searching the clouds

for some sign of you.

I could not

find you.


When I finally arrived home

I let the monstrous madness out.

I fell, as if still from a great height,

into my mother’s arms.

I was the last to arrive.

The survivors had all converged

together yet apart

for grief is such a private thing.

In the days that followed

I looked for you everywhere,

on the living room rug

next to the fireplace

where you’d drink your beer,

in a porch chair

reading the paper

with donut in hand,

at your bathroom sink

surrounded by your toiletries,

those meaningless things

that now seemed so dear

for they were now proof

that you had

once existed.


You would have been touched

(and humbled in your gentle way)

by those who came

to your funeral.

They came by the hundreds.

Your tiny church

looked sure to burst

from that shuttering,

sobbing, mob.

The minister, your friend,

reminded us of the butterfly,

that glorious symbol

of resurrection,

and found it difficult

to continue.

I sat, wearing a dress

I had bought for Europe,

a dress I did not buy for

your funeral.


In a metal box

you kept them all:

my letters,

homemade Valentines,

and cards – how I loved

to send you cards!

In my memory box

I’ve kept remembrances too:

your love of those

silly portulaca flowers

that you planted everywhere

and that as a child

I tried to pull out

(“They’re ugly,” I’d claim,

“No, they’re colorful and

very hardy,” you’d say),

our afternoon exploring

Manhattan’s art museums

lunching only on soft pretzels,

the many nights we talked

past midnight about


(“You never know your mistakes

until after you’ve made them”),


(“You have to live it”),

and the value of work

(“Everyone has to have

a reason for getting up”).

I often thought you corny

as daughters often do,

but you taught me

which little voice inside

to listen to,

and now you are the one

to teach me

about death.

It is a lesson

I do not want

to learn.


After the funeral

we came home, spent.

I looked up, and saw

the brightest, biggest

butterfly, dancing over

a pot of your portulacas!

I stared, and smiled,

for you had somehow arranged

its visit.

You lived!  Somewhere

on the other side.

You got a message back.

That butterfly said,

“Grieve not, for

I will always be near.”

Life, death, and now


you had come back

to finish the lesson.

Death now seemed

a safer place,

as natural and

as miraculous

as birth.


Time has passed and

you are still with me.

I see you everywhere:

in the star-like reflections

of sun upon water,

in the full moon as it rises

from the ocean,

in the clouds that

roll across the sky like waves,

the waves I once painted

for you,

the waves you once photographed

for me.

The sadness still comes,

but the despair is gone –

gone on the wings of a butterfly.

It was Father’s Day

when last we spoke,

and though I won’t be

buying any cards this June,

I will this year and next,

for as long as this heart holds,

say Happy Father’s Day

to you,

who will always be,

my father.

Dad and Me

2 thoughts on “A Famous Man

  1. Debby, this is beautiful and poignant. It makes think of my dad. Thank you for that. I didn’t know about the butterfly. I will watch…


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