My Father Visits


The doorbell rings and he’s standing on my front stoop
though he’s been dead for more than a year.

Same thinning hair, dark-rimmed glasses, maybe a bit
shorter, and with an unfamiliar softness to his face,

his usual look of disapproval dissolved, as if it had been
erased by time or space. Somehow, I am not surprised.

I open the door, invite him to step inside my house,
the one he never wanted to visit. I politely offer him

a cup of tea, though I know he’ll decline. I recognize
the smell of Old Spice, my favorite childhood scent.

I can’t stay long, he says, and this makes sense to me;
there’s somewhere else he’s supposed to be.

Why is he here now? I’m wondering. Is this
a haunting? A reckoning? A wish?

As if he can read my thoughts, he says, I just came
to see the baby. My daughter, conceived too late

for him to meet when he was alive. I bring her in
from her crib. He reaches out his arms, wanting

to hold her, though I am hesitant. Can I trust
his appearance? I breathe deeply, hand her over.

All at once, he looks as if he has aged backwards,
become the young man he once must have been,

the father in my childhood photographs, before
I grew out of the sphere of his shine.

With a gentle hand, he lifts the baby’s blanket,
gazes at her sleeping face. The words he says

are words I have never heard
my father say to anyone: She is perfect.

He hands me back the baby, turns and walks
out my door. I will never see him again, but

I will always remember
that he showed up.

Joanne Esser writes in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She has also been a teacher of young children for over thirty years. She earned an MFA from Hamline University and published a chapbook of poems, ‘I Have Always Wanted Lightning,’ with Finishing Line Press in 2012. Her work appears in many journals.

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