Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

Naming the Father

Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

Naming the Father

Article excerpt

I

On the eve of that terrible war we call the world's first,

German soldiers trudged toward the future.

How many copies of Death

in Venice were jammed in travel sacks,

next to a mother's gift of stationary and a father's

garment offered for the cold night?

A vacation packing, it would seem,

except for the uncertain trembling lips,

the final clasping of the family's hands

and then that clasp broken like the last lock

of the heart, and the mother weeps and waves,

weeps and reaches out the worn hand that still,

after the hard years of his adolescence, is not weary

of her child. And the father, ever-silent.

I'm not imagining all of this. History remembers

thousands of German knapsacks stuffed with the story

of Aschenbach and Tadzio, of water, a sandy shore,

the bells of death, doomed love-the old story

the distinguished gentleman failing

to warn the boy of a sweeping illness.

The silent father, above us all,

watching and guiding-his influential gaze

pushing us toward death, finally, but first

every glory on the path.

II

In the diaries of Thomas Mann, there are visitations

of beautiful young men, those who drifted briefly

across his view, in gardens and trains, and one

who was his own, his son. The father marking

the boy's bare back with ink, and that son died

with that love-can we call it desire?-scrawled on his flesh.

Died of his own hand-pushed, the critics say,

by the lingering eye of the father, the occasional

caress, perhaps. …

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