A Son, Dead Too Soon

by Ken Harnisch

You birth them and raise them up;
You feed them and send them to school;
You fret over bad tests and exult over
Great report cards. You put your
Fist in your mouth at soccer games
To keep the pride at watching a
Special child perform at an especial
Level from impinging on the feelings
Of parents less fortunate than you.

You watch them grow, tracing their
Evolution through penciled marks
On a bedroom wall. You watch a little boy
Become a slender young man, and you recoil
At his first words of insolence or rejection
Not assuaged by being reminded
That you, yourself, were once the same.

Still, you nurture, both loudly and quietly
You wonder what he will become and swear
Under your breath when he shuns hard work
To twitter and tweet with his friends. You fear
His falling prey to the tentacles of the social octopus
Especially those of peers who lack both ambition
And common sense. You exhale mightily
When he comes home at 2 in the morning
Intoxicated, but intact

You wonder after the motives of a first girlfriend
And maybe a second, until a girl comes along
Whom mother seems to adore more than son.
You watch him go off to his first job, and listen to him
Grouse. You see him move from place to place, boss
To boss, until he slips, without overture, into a niche
You know was fated to be his.

And just when you think, no, you know
He has it right, and you had such a decisive hand in the
Architecture of a budding life, you
Begin to see that beneath the camouflage of
Geniality and success may fester a tumor
Of unreachable pain and doubt

Moments of recklessness go mutely charted;
Missed appointments and oversleeping
Become quiet warrens of worry. You check
His whereabouts and ask after his well-being
He sloughs you off with that beguiling smile,
Tells you all is well, and then tomorrow comes
And demands payment of life’s most terrible sum

And the time comes when you realize the irony
Of staring down at a graven face in a polished
Casket, knowing he is yours, knowing it should
Be the reverse and he is the one who should
Be hearing the kind words and lamentations of
Your friends, not you his.

Your grief is not measureable on any Richter scale
No friend or relative, however loving,
Can know the shattering of your heart and soul
Or the ways you stare into lightless space
On moonless nights and see only the image
Of his cherished face flaming in the darkness

And in the stages of anger and denial and what-if’s
And if-onlys and all the other sub-levels of
Self-flagellation you will in utter silence endure,
Sometimes comes the rage that you voice
In the blackest cave you know
Why him, Lord? Oh God, why him?
You should have taken me instead.

And no matter how long you go on
Afterwards you know it, and you,
Will never be the same.


Author's Note: Inspired by a recent tragedy in a good friend's life

Posted on 02/25/2011
Copyright © 2024 Ken Harnisch

Member Comments on this Poem
Posted by Gabriel Ricard on 02/25/11 at 03:16 PM

It's unfortunate that a tragedy can inspire something as well-written as this. Because make no mistake about it. This is great writing.

Posted by Joan Serratelli on 02/25/11 at 09:31 PM

this is absolutely tragic. I cannot imagine losing a child. it's heartwrenching. Wonderful

Posted by Kristine Briese on 02/26/11 at 12:37 AM

Utterly heart-breaking, but beautiful as always.

Posted by Linda Fuller on 02/27/11 at 12:32 AM

Agree with everything that's been said, especially Gabriel's comment. The quality of writing is nothing less than I've come to expect from you.

Posted by Julie Adams on 02/28/11 at 05:37 AM

this poem reads liket he solemn sway of a poppy field, well done poet, a blessing to encounter and experience, peace n poems, jewels

Posted by Paganini Jones on 02/28/11 at 10:31 PM

Thank you. This rings true - speaks to our recent loss too. Especially the heartfelt cry of the second to last stanza.

Posted by Morgan D Hafele on 03/03/11 at 02:17 PM

painfully beautiful. thank you for sharing this.

Posted by Clara Mae Gregory on 03/05/11 at 10:33 PM

EVERY PARENTS' NIGHTMARE...and this expresses it very well. So sorry to hear of your friend's tragedy.

Posted by Glenn Currier on 03/06/11 at 01:56 PM

I am choking back tears. Can barely write. As John said above, it is sad but so beautiful. The beauty of it is in your empathy, kindness, wisdom, and humanity. I can only try to imagine this kind of loss. Thanks for such a superb poem, Ken. It an act of an artist and of love.

Posted by James Zealy on 03/09/11 at 05:49 PM

It is beautifully written and passionate and heart wrenching. Loss is never easy and the pain that accompanies it s as powerful as any love ever experienced.

Posted by Mo Couts on 08/26/11 at 03:00 PM

Heartwrenching and beautifully sad. A lovely tribute to a life that was sadly ended too soon.

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