Dead Letter Office: William Harris

Author | David M. Harris

Dear Dad:

We had the most sophisticated system, 
stereo sound when that was rare,
hand-made from a kit by Heath.
Band saw, drill press, all the tools
that could have built the dream,
if only you had found the plans.
Mowers, pruners, rakes, and spades;
strangely, for our flat quarter-acre,
a lawn roller that I don't recall
ever seeing roll. We used the tent,
ate fish you caught, and paddled
the folding kayak.
Not bad
for the poor city kid whose immigrant
elder brothers never learned to worry
about being American enough.


Dear Dad:

We never had a family business
I could inherit, although I followed you
into photography for a while, took
some nice pictures, learned to print them.
Then I moved on. You worked at painting all your life,
and I took only one course. I found no gift. 
Instead, I got your curiosity and the need
to make an impression on the world. I inherited
or copied your gift for language, trying
not to use it as a weapon. Trying. 
Sometimes I succeed,
and a poem touches someone's heart,
my own bit of tikkun olam, “healing the world,”
a phrase I never learned from you.
But I know your history.
Where would you have learned it?
I keep searching for my inheritance--
searching through my inheritance--
building a new legacy for my daughter.


Dear Dad:

Were you reluctant to talk
about your life, or was I afraid
to ask? Scattered stories from your war,
left for me to build into a single
narrative, to fill in the gaps from
my own imagination. Something about
freeing P.O.W.'s in a salt mine—your story
or my invention? Behind whose lines?
Classified, or just withheld?
At the peace, you wanted to stay in Lausanne,
get the formal education your father
made impossible. Is that a real
memory? Your fantasy or mine?
And of all the war stories I remember,
not one about your father.


About the Author | David M. Harris Until 2003, David M. Harris had never lived more than fifty miles from New York City. Since then he has moved to Tennessee, married, acquired a daughter and a classic MG, and gotten serious about poetry. All these projects seem to be working out pretty well. His work has appeared in Pirene's Fountain (and in First Water, the Best of Pirene's Fountain anthology), Gargoyle, The Labletter, The Pedestal, and other places. His first collection of poetry, The Review Mirror, was published by Unsolicited Press in 2013.