Quincy R. Lehr, ‘Lines for my father’

I think I owe some kind of explanation
As I grow tired and listless fingers writhe
Above the unpecked keyboard pad. I’m not
Quite out to blame you or your generation
For where I’m at tonight. You paid the tithe
That life exacts. It’s sanctimonious rot
If we deny the pain of paying it–
And our denials never help one bit.

Unlike you, I found myself involved
In protest politics when I was young.
I spouted crap about the working class
While searching for a problem to be solved.
I mocked you then, since stirring tunes are sung
In brayed crescendos, with a blaze of brass
Booming triumphs won against the odds–
Unjust societies and jealous Gods.

You seemed so cautious–tastefully attired
With modest ties and polished wing-tipped shoes,
A cautious, kindly smile that reached your eyes.
A man to be respected, not admired,
Neither adulated nor abused.
Ambitions of an ordinary size
Were often past your reach. A nagging doubt
Set in, and now I know what that’s about.

Tonight, I type these words as it gets late,
And no one calls to beckon me to bed.
I scoffed at what you’d craved–the tenure track,
The slow-accruing pension from the state,
The wife (who left you). Though you’re good and dead
(And at this hour, my eyes are going slack)
And though you cannot answer, I’ll report
–While having to imagine your retort–

That we’re no happier than you, and can’t
Quite seem to sit for tests that you had failed.
Our phones are packed with numbers we won’t call.
The televisions blast a constant rant
That we ignore like letters still unmailed–
Or unconceived. Clichés about a ball
That’s dropped don’t work–or maybe don’t apply.
We never picked it up. I wonder why.

This recognition’s only dawning now
As streetlights speckle glimmers on your urn
Beside my unmade bed, and as I write
These words to you in lieu of sleep. Somehow,
The brays of drunks outside my window turn
Almost comforting, as if the night
Is full of us–insomniac, astray,
And muttering defiance at the day.


Quincy R. Lehr writes: “As for that poem, my father died in 2003, when I was twenty-seven. The content pretty much speaks for itself, I think. I was young, lonely, and frequently drunk when I wrote it.”

Editor’s comment: I admire the technical skill of the poem: the steady iambic pentameter; the abcabcdd rhyme scheme with the final couplet providing a punch; the integrity of the individual stanzas, each patiently laying out a mood, a thought, a situation. And I relate to the young man’s restless, unquiet, unsettled life, and the comparison to his father’s existence, his dismissal of his father’s achievements, his simultaneous recognition of the inevitable connections. It is a satisfying telling of an individual’s unique early life, in the context of the universal discord between generations.

Born in Oklahoma, Quincy R. Lehr is the author of several books of poetry, and his poems and criticism appear widely in venues in North America, Europe, and Australia. His book-length poem ‘Heimat‘ was published in 2014. His most recent books are ‘The Dark Lord of the Tiki Bar‘ (2015) and ‘Near Hits and Lost Classics‘ (2021), a selection of early poems. He lives in Los Angeles.


2 thoughts on “Quincy R. Lehr, ‘Lines for my father’

  1. John Beaton

    A well-crafted poem that expresses a relatable sentiment: when people grow into adulthood they can develop an appreciation for the lives of the previous generation, which, in youth, they too easily regarded as ordinary and uninspired. The final stanza is a clincher.

    Liked by 1 person


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