Painting the Tides
by Pauli Dutton

The tides surged … and each wave that hit
the beach came light-struck …
–Pat Conroy, Beach Music

A tide cannot always be ascending.
Sometimes it needs to decline.
My 90-year-old father lives married to an easel,
streaking sunbeams through cadmium blue,
shadowing tides with burning umber.
Glistening waves, he can’t stop
flecking titanium white.

When he was young he painted knot holes
and moats for musicals he sang in.
When the script called for a child, I strolled
or stood on stage. I had always hoped
for a bigger role in my father’s life.
Once I pretended to point at bears in a cage.
Another time I carried a king’s train.

The best part of every show was the finale,
when we all held hands and sang together.
We bowed. They clapped. And the song held
me through the night and even after.
For days, when I closed my eyes, I could hear
Dad’s resounding tenor.
His favorite role was Cap’n Andy
in Showboat, spiffy in his nautical cap.

For years, Dad inhabited that hat,
spoke of his ache to sail his own boat.
He painted seascapes until he went blind,
tuned pianos until he went deaf.
In the white winter of age he sang
in the church choir until that last descent
when tides go out and white barnacles hide.
Their cases, broken shells scattered across wet sand.

Previously published in MacQueen’s Quinterly:18 April 2023

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