Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Poem Reflection: Forgiving our Fathers

forgiving our fathers
by dick lourie
forgiving our fathers

How do we forgive our fathers?

maybe in a dream: he's in your power
you twist his arm but you're not sure it was
he that stole your money you feel calmer
and you decide to let him go free

or he's the one (as in a dream of mine)
I must pull from the water but I never
knew it or wouldn't have done it until
I saw the street-theater play so close up
I was moved to actions I'd never before taken

maybe for leaving us too often or
forever when we were little maybe
for scaring us with unexpected rage
or making us nervous because there seemed
never to be any rage there at all

for marrying or not marrying our mothers
for divorcing or not divorcing our mothers
and shall we forgive them for their excesses
of warmth or coldness shall we forgive them

for pushing or leaning for shutting doors
for speaking only through layers of cloth
or never speaking or never being silent

in our age or in theirs or in their deaths
saying it to them or not saying it -
if we forgive our fathers what is left

Indecisiveness and unpunctuated free form characterize Dick Laurie's "Forgiving our Fathers," featured in the 1998 film Smoke Signals. The poem itself provides a number of theories behind  the essential question Lourie's speaker is asking: How do we forgive our fathers? 

And then these theories behind the need for forgiveness become revealed, in a somewhat list-like fashion. The offenses vary from a father's leaving his young children to "shutting doors," and yet Lourie presents each with equal emotional weight. His expert style renders seemingly insignificant offenses ambiguous, and with the inclusion of theories like "for marrying...our mothers...for...not divorcing our mothers" the reader is left in further bewilderment. As, little by little, the speaker presents to us the fact that the actions and inactions of "our fathers" no matter how small, can be perceived as traumatic, as bad memories meriting forgiveness. 

With the "Our Father" motif so poignant throughout this piece, it is no far jump to wonder if the speaker is referencing our relationship with God. Consider the last stanza, in particular: "...Saying it to them or not saying it-/if we forgive our fathers what is left". As writer Jose Saragmo once noted, "The history of mankind is the history of our misunderstandings with god, for he doesn't understand us, and we don't understand him." Lourie acknowledges our lack of forgiveness toward "our fathers," our fathers, who allow us as children, as humans, to suffer- as our substance. Without some dissent with God, we are out of stakes. Without finding grains of salt in every nuance of "our fathers," Lourie pronounces us as lost. So, touche, Mr. Lourie- how do we forgive our fathers? How could we ever?


  1. I wonder if the ambiguous nature of the poem is on purpose? Forgiveness is not the neat and tidy act it is often portrayed to be. Rather, I believe, it is a life-long process that might never be completed fulfilled.

  2. Perhaps it is on purpose. I agree with you that forgiveness is often tedious and complex. Sometimes forgiveness itself is ambiguous so maybe the offenses are portrayed as equally ambiguous?