Kenneth Fries

Father’s Passing

i. Hush

crab boats rock the dock at dusk
silver crescent cradles evening stars;
his spinning potter’s wheel has slowed,
now silent as blue dew of mourning

in the long summer grass
fireflies chirp unheard by us
    in sudden passion flash
their tiny beacons

there is hush intense as prayer

in the school theatre as the young girl
closes her clear bell song,
students listen    do not move
to turn the page

ii. Père-Lachaise

I climb past gray November stones
rust-brown leaves
swirling
in the chill,
pause to find my breath
before the labyrinth of gravesite markers,

listen
for a moment
to the metal screech below
as the Paris Metro
(many-headed serpent of the city)
tunnels through the day,

then enter Père-Lachaise
along the gravel path behind two women
seeking plots of Balzac, Delacroix
among those treasured
by the French
and other lovers;

Mon vieux père would have liked to come with me
to poke around the noble graves
(though he preferred the stones of unknown men)
and would have stood there long
to know the stories of those lives.

“Hat’s off to them!” he would have said, or “Chapeau bas!”
then remembered something of his own
to tell me

as we meandered down the hill.

iii. Dream Work

My old father
perched on the rust-crusted fire escape
above me,
tugs at the fine line
descending
to me on level ground,
asking me
to be more bold and wicked,
more thorough, more understanding.

Granddaughters

Westward we will journey then, you know
deep joy of rocks and caves carved by time
red painted, yellow, brown, we’ll travel down
below the Texas line
where our sweet girls await us on the farm
Daddy rages, Mama calls
—no peace for them in summer’s storm.
Let them come with us when household falls.
We’ll find the reddest rocks revered
by Anasazi elders, who knew the ochre sun
warms human children, dries devastating tears;
before their broken breathing has begun
perhaps the girls will hear the pinion jay among the pines
on crested canyon rims or, glancing, see your hand in mine.

Author Portrait

Kenneth Fries lived and worked in Washington, DC, before returning to Chico in 2004. Ken has studied creative writing at the Bethesda, MD Writer’s Center and poetry at CSU, Chico. He has written monthly columns for the Chico ER on family matters and published chapbooks of poetry entitled Gracewater and Weathering. Selected poems have appeared in Watershed and the Alehouse Review of San Francisco. Ken lives in Chico and travels occasionally to Africa to lead seminars on public contracting.