Final music sheets of summer smooth open,
sing silently open-mouthed at grass and river
My swollen feet bear me, my heart
Shimmers with effort beside strong
current. He meets me, glitter worn off
shredded wings, like me he pauses,
torn and bitten in summer flight, landings nearly
lost. Picture me, he said, align your
aperture and I will fill your lens
with a solo of seasonal loss, fragile arms
singed, beaten. It’s you, dad, but it’s not,
you slowly hum, tap aluminum sickroom
bedrails, keeping time while Autumn whispers
cooly, “Come,” but I no longer coast in
color, preferring gray smoke glides
at sunrise, contrast the shrill Day-Glo
mourning of your blood kin for recent,
burnished, borrowed copper pasts with you,
eyelash wisp of tapestry tears
away, the saffron and scarlet threads
snag us in filaments of staff and knots,
Instruct pilots hovering over
Connecticut River mist
to fly slowly as far as we can
above harmonies I never heard you sing
So that together we may clear this bridge
Janet Parlato is a writer and artist from Connecticut. She lives with her husband Steve, their children, Ben and Jillian, and a needy little dog named Austin. Janet poems have been published in Brides Magazine, Paper Nautilus, Common Ground Review, Freshwater Poetry Journal and the upcoming 20th Anniversary Anthology for the Guilford Poets Guild.
"Writing 'Last Dragonfly, for Ralph' was bittersweet and organic. My father-in-law, the gruff, hard-working patriarch, with a sunburned face and fiery nature, presided over his large yard, each level shored up with impressive walls he built from an impossibly chunky New England soil. You could see him every day after work, and all day long on weekends, a holey orange knit hat on his head, snaking along the rows, murdering weeds or axing stones until they fit perfectly into his plan. Indoors, he was often behind rolling clouds of steam from a pasta pot, or with a long-handled fork behind a grill. He did remind me of a dragon, in the nicest possible way.
The inspiration for my poem came the autumn before his death. After the sudden loss of his wife, Ralph was robbed, then diagnosed with cancer. Amid treatments, his house burned to the ground. Throughout these awful events, Ralph showed the kind of scaly armor that only great people possess. He kept his sense of humor, and he looked death in the eye with ferocious normalcy, even during his final stay in the hospital.
One day, I went where the Connecticut River pulled tidally out to sea, near a swing bridge and a small airport. Not in the greatest health, I had limped out to the foggy docks. I thought about how Ralph was trying to hang in there for one last holiday season. Suddenly an old dragonfly landed on a tall weed in front of me. It was barely moving, and its wings were tattered as Ralph’s hat. It was a strange moment. I was seeing its silent final moments. Once, Ralph said he sang in a Doo-wop band in the 1950s, but he never sang for us, only as a joke at birthdays. He never let us see that side of him, but it was clearly there. So, there we were, in a way, together, at the bridge between here and there."