As I sit here in our one-star hotel in Paris
I think of my father,
chronically ill these six months,
physically changed, frail and smaller.
This spring, his eighty-seventh year,
I’m buying him
old man handkerchiefs to comfort him.
Pretty ones, in checkered and striped pastels,
as only the French would design them.
In the twenty-five years
since I discovered the City of Light,
my father has become a slightly different person.
He now needs a cane, hearing aids,
a hissing oxygen tank.
He no longer tells stories or jokes,
or reads a book a day.
He doesn’t write funny essays anymore.
He’s lost thirty pounds,
wears boy’s -size shirts,
and is always chilly.
Sometimes he can barely lift his tea mug,
is not able to repair a torn curtain
or take a drawer off its hinges.
My father long ago lost the energy for physical labor,
the agility for fishing.
His hands shake too much
to start his tomato seedlings, he tells me.
His mind remains intact.
He remembers the elm trees on his parents’ Vermont farm,
he’s still interested in his nieces’ lives,
in who’s visiting whom in the neighborhood.
He exclaims over each hummingbird and grosbeak,
and often beats us all at Scrabble.
Sitting here in magical, luminous Montparnasse,
to which I’m almost as attached as I am to my father,
I can actually slip him out of my mind
for an hour, even half a day,
if the sun is shining.
Surrounded by all that is now so familiar, so comforting,
dazzled by the light, the architecture, the wine,
I can sometimes forget for a while
that one day soon, not even handkerchiefs will comfort him.
* – The Handkerchiefs