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The Fatherland: In Memory of Dad

Stephen Edgington Jordan
August 4, 1932 – May 4, 2015

(Hob Glob Version: Take One)   penned, April 24 to May 7, 2015

My Dad died several days ago.
I started this poem before his demise…
I was not able to share it with him, though we did laugh thru many of these memories when I saw him last Christmas.

My first impulse was to write a chronological narrative.  But somewhere in the process, the order broke down.  The memories came in so thick and gushing that I just had to just plop stuff down; Order be flushed.

I have not yet solidified the voice, so I am using several.   The style ranges from immediate prose to flamboyant symbolism. I just started thinking about Dad and spitting verse. I am speaking to him, and about him.   I speak about the material world, and the world he helped create in me. 

This is a history I share in part with my mother, Ellie Jordan (d 2009) and my siblings Casey, Tien, and Jordan.   The poem covers roughly the first fourteen years of my life, stretched across three home states.   Life got more complicated after that.

The Fatherland   

My father is a land
Of burnt orange and umber
Tall grass, and wind speak,
Torrents and thunder…

My father is the smell of varnish'n
cedar sparks, trilling into the sky.


I am smoking a cigar to my dad
Not because he liked the things, nor because of life
He preferred the pipe --- And he is curled,
Like a skin and bone wisp
In a dying bed

This smoke is currency of time and place
I need the hour
And the tug of the smoldering earth
Thick on my eyes, nose and tongue.
I need to remember good things and bad, and things long forgotten.


It is hard, when harvesting the past to know
How much of memory is real
How much is photograph derived.

I consider my first conscious thought:
You are swimming in the ocean with my Mom.
Only, I am not yet born.
Must be the photo. But I do have the shell.
Pastel and neon, swirled in abalone.

Next photographic memory shows me, age two, with hair of platinum silk.  I am sitting in a boat, packaged in a float.  I don't remember the name of the lake, but I do remember the blue, the white bobbled boats and spray, and the feel of your warm stubble pressed into my cheek.

I remember, riding in the back of cars.  The beauty of falling asleep to the purr.  Tubes of zinging light.   You wake me up and say… Look, that is Hollywood..  I look up, then lap back into dreams.

Later that night we pull into the drive.  Placerville.  Small farm. The crickets are ablaze.  A crisp Sierra-Nevada night shocks my skin:

My Father
Is a jump rope of stars
The milky way, arching overhead
Like a spangled rainbow trout…

How many little suns could there be?

I think now of our tepid skies
Could this even be the same universe?


My Father is
The Grand Explainer:
He shows me how to find the dipper twins, then to measure to Polaris.   We are laying on our backs.  I try to gauge the creep of the earth as distant suns pass by pinnacles of pine.
On some other night, we point our flashlights at Orion
He tells me, if I aim hard and long I might cause a star to fall.

I try it.

It works.

My Father is a friend of pigs
And dogs and cats and steers and mice and hamsters,
I remember dad slopping Isabel the oinker
Or the day we ate Pepper the bull.
I remember Casper the ghost-cat and Tuffy, and Priscilla the pony
And cats having kits having cats having sacks.

My father is the plead
of “Uncle Steve” come out and play.
You didn't need to be his nephew to use the word.
When we played
The neighbor kids came from country blocks.
We played Kick the Can and Hide and Seek.

Tap tap tap, one two three, all you monkeys,
Here I come…
We all hunkered down and shuttered when my dad was on the roll.
I see you Colin behind the bushes… I am coming to eat you…  Aughghhg.

My father is the roar of the riding mower.
One year, rather than shaving down the back lot
He cuts a single groove, with eddies
making a living MAZE for my birthday.

I would do the same for my daughter, some thirty years later.

My Father is the sound of water.
Some times still, sometimes crashing, cascading in vertical torrents
sometimes dripping, or spinning in eddies from our oars.

My father is the sound of music
Kingston Trio, Johnny Cash, Roger Miller, or

Oh, Hang down your head Tom Dooley

These boots are made for walking, and that’s just what they do
And one of these day these days these boots are going to walk all over You…

Oh you can't roller-skate in a buffalo herd…

Anyone who knows my Dad, knows that music was his blood.  But he was never satisfied to simply listen.  He must make it. Push it prod it, mend it bake it. Share it in community with others.

Dad played guitar … the banjo, mandolin, yuke and kazoo…Long before it was cool     Or cool again.

Then, when mom and he harmonically twined in
I left my heart in San Francisco
Oh, how we melted into the floor.

My father is the friend of books
And the bane of my wife
As I pull volumes, from house to house…
Oh the worlds he opened to me.

We read Robinson Crusoe, Robin Hood, Swiss family Robinson.
the Mysterious Island, Kontiki…

He recited the very un-PC Congo. Or that story of Sam McGee, that guy who got so cold, he delighted in his own cremation….

When I turned twelve he gave me a copy Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan of the Apes, complete with an Ape English dictionary.

So, brother Tien and I learned Ape English.

Omp oosha mumba huma… then we’d throw my sister’s name, just for fun.

And it was good fun, till we started a riot in the primate session of the zoo.

That’s a joke.

My Father is a fountain of fifth grade wisdom.

He relates a ditty that he carved – then sanded from – his fifth graded desk:

The more you study
The more you learn
The more you learn
The more you know
The More you know
The more you forget
The more you forget, the dumber you are

So why study?

My Father is the master of manners.
Indeed we called them Manner Nights.  
Dad would keep a tally of each infraction.  
Elbows on table, check.  Fail to say Please or Thank-you, Check.
One night when mom was gone, Dad decided to reverse the order.
We would have a bad manner night and win points for each shattering of etiquette.
He shut it down three minutes later when the food started flying.

My Father is the teaser of brains:

Twelve pears were hanging high
Twelve men came riding by
Each took a pair
And left eleven hanging there.
Explain it.

(Each was a man's name)

jumping back

My Father is the fanner of socially sanctified fibs:

I am sitting with Casey, three years my younger.  I must be five as she is alive and can sit and laugh, and we are wide awake, waiting on Santa.  I have decided to sleep behind the sofa.  I have heard rumors that that he may not be… I will be the scientist and see first hand.

We bundle up  and wait and wait.  And   waaaaaaait.

I wake.  Oh Lord.  It's true!
A bike.  HOT WHEEL CARS… Dart board….Purple shirts with paisley ties, materialize out of nothing.
The milk is gone, the cookies too, it's true it's true…

Which in turn, reminds me

Christmas 1972
I am 12 and long since have lost my faith in all things Kringle, but not my parents will to surprise.  But I will Not be surprised.  I sneak upstairs, open the chest, part blankets, carefully undo tape and wrapping.


A dinosaur model.  A chess set….And… What’s this. An invisible man and woman.  A woman??

I will be the only boy on my block to have in my possession, a model of a fully naked women in my room.   She stands twelve inches tall, clear skin, visible organs and bones…and a second set of attachments for modeling pregnancy in which her intensities are all pushed up, her bladder diminished.  

And while I am clearly captivated by her transparent breasts, I am sad to see
No Chemistry set.

The one thing I asked for is not here.

Nor was it under the Christmas tree.
My parents ask:
Are you happy?
I say yes… very, but they know the look and pry… Is there anything missing?
I confess.  I really wanted a chemistry set.

Dad tells me to look outside, on the lawn.  

And it came with a microscope too.

Later he would prick his finger, and we would look at A-plus blood.

My father is the Peter Max of the walkable canvas
He paints the plywood of my bedroom floor
In bold grey, red and black swirls
Like a collision with a French curve, a flower and the ocean.

No other kid has a room like mine
Bookshelf supported by an internal tree, Map of the World
Map of the Moon…. Scholastic horse posters mixed with Jacque Cousteau.
Rocks and arrowheads, straight from my Father's boyhood, twelve nests in a box, snake skins….

My father is the king of forts.
The first one, built in a tree,
The second built in our gold Dodge van.
Dad takes plywood and builds a platform, window level.
Underneath are the camping supplies.  Above are our bodies,
Laughing, leering,
Making faces at drivers
staring at all things amazing.

Casey has lost her glasses.  I am dazzled by the desert.  I ask her what she thinks, she says;  just looks like a pile of rocks to me.

Dear God, what wonders.  
The four headed president, purple mountains majesty
Painted deserts, eternal Kansas, and the bubbling caldron of Yellowstone.

My Father is the king of outdoor cooking.
We put kielbasa,  carrots, potato and onion in foil, place the package in the coals.
Later my dad will feed me jerky.  He tells me that it's coyote meat.
We are on the lookout for Jackelopes.

My father is the king of maps.
We draw on them.  Huge loops from our Tulsa home.  
Westward. Eastward, Northward.  In time we draw a flower on the map.

My Father is a champion of social justice.
Not so much in big ways but in living ways.
Age 8.  Alfonzo, then Kim, join us from Harlem and the Bronx in our upstate New York home.
And what a site we are.  Ebony and Ivory, Almond and Chicory in one heaven like kaleidoscope.

Alfonzo will teach me how to do a back-flip.  Dad spots. We start on the edge a picnic table then dive back over pillows.  At the end of the week I am doing them unaided, with running round-off.

Later we perform gymnastics in the living room to the sounds of my father’s records.  We put on capes and swim fins, turning head-springs over the foot rest to the sound of Tijuana Brass, Whipped Cream and other Delights.  We love the music, but I feel nervous and detained, looking at that album cover.

My Father is the paragon of fashion.
Double knit, powder blue, elastic waistband trousers.
Tube socks with red stripes….
Who cares what side the buttons are on.
David King, the neighbor kid is laughing:
Mr. Jordan, Mr. JordanYou are wearing high water pants!

Indeed, My Father is the captain of boats.
We have christened ours the Dawn Treader.
We are chugging up the Mohawk River in rowboat
Is this thing even legal?  5-horsepower engine.
We pull up to the locks.  Dad affirms that we pay taxes. They let us in.
We push two hours upstream, dock our boat
With other French fur-traders at
The Riverside café
where we eat soft ice-cream.

My Father is man of complex amusement
I have told some visiting cousins that we have bums down by the river.
I will take them to the bank, in the dark, shake a bush then run.

My father, hearing my intrigue, beats me to it.   He lays just over the bank. then moans.

We scream, leap and run - smashing into each other, Alfonzo is weeping
scared shatless.

My father is the leader of troupes.
We belong to a Fundamentalist version of boy scouts, something called “Stockade”
We stand in form like palisade poles, our captains in the corners.
We pray, and make bookcases from logs, or learn how to find north using a watch.

WE are climbing up T-mountain, the highest point in New York State.
Dad shows us poison ivy, poop of deer, skin of snake.
Later we push to the summit.
A ninety foot fire-watch tower.  We are appalled by the height
And the glory of the tumbling trees below.

My Father is a man of science.
An engineer. A man of gears and turbines.
Funny, he tried to interest me in all things mechanical. Slide rules and spark plugs.
I could sense his exasperation when I found no interest in cars but when it came to protoplasm or Pluto I was all ears.

As is, my father would tell me that the universe
is billions of years old.   Mother low balled the number and went for 7,000.

And me… I am a
Fundamentalist mystic, given to sloppy averages.
Ten trillion or ten, all I know
Is I see the wisdom of the Master Artist
in each proton, feather and fan-blade.

Growing up
Dad once said that in 400 years or so
Homo-sapiens might evolve in such a way as to lose our little toe.
I think he was wrong in this…
But my father did change over years.
I knew him as a staunch Republican
Champion of then governor Ronald Reagan.
Now a portrait of Obama, hangs in his hallway.

Then there were those years
We rode around, our Van a living artifact of the Jesus Revolution.
One sticker invited ceaseless honking.
We never knew if folks loved Jesus, or if Dad crossed the line.

The other sticker, black, with stark white type, battled Nietzsche:

God is not Dead

And so it is.  God is alive
Even as our skin breaks down
Our organs fail
We lose our minds.

My Father is the namer of boys
Kirk/ Kirkwood – the ranch that he grew up on and
A vital part of my identity, the Kirk, the Church
The assembly of the living near the woods….

On Wednesday night
The Jordan household was its own special place
Big bearded men, long skirted dames, even Oscar the drunk
or Marilyn, with her carved up wrists
would gather in our living room with bibles and tambourines.
Mama testified and daddy sang
Put your hand in the hand of the man who stilled the waters, 
my then favorite hymn:

Like a River Glorious, is God's perfect peace
Finding as he promised perfect peace a rest.


My father is a man of risks
He teaches me to spoon the mold from the Jelly
Or call it butter milk when the cream starts to sour.

My father used to say: Try anything once.
Which is great when it comes  to Kimchi

bad, when it comes to moral imperatives.

My father
Is a host of contradictions.
I will not name them here
I have learned the hard way
That I too am flesh

Oh God how we need your mercy.

I cannot now remember the first time
The first time my father let me push the shutter.
His was a German Exacta.  Something he picked up in Hong Kong for a better price.
It was a 35mm SLR, with a detachable prism finder, separate light meter, and three lenses.

I was intrigued.

He would teach me shutter speeds, apertures, and the rule of thirds.  But then there was my baptism into all things light.

We are crossing thru Wyoming.  We sing of antelopes and seldom heard discouraging-words. We arch across a path and then I see it.  Or them.  The Tetons.

Set like teeth in the shark of the world.

This is why I seldom use the word awesome.  Because… I was, in that moment filled
with unbridled AWE.   (nothing else seems to match.)

We pull over.  He loans me the camera.  I am running and clicking and panting: Praise God, Praise God, Praise God.

That day, a photographer was born.

And today, there is no image that I take, no light that I harvest that does not bear my father’s greatest gift to me… the gift of looking hard.


Is the smell of wool
Old spice cologne, or tobacco laced with orange peel

Dang, this is a good cigar.



It goes without saying that we are the offspring of our parents.  We bear in our bone, blood and brain cells, a direct DNA download that will forever condition our respective bodies.  I know I feel it in mine.  Mom; Small chin.  Twinkle eyes.  Dad; receding hairline, good legs, potbelly gut.

I feel it too, in other ways.  I am not sure if there is such a thing as DNA of the spirit, but I often feel to be son of my parents in a truly metaphysical sense.  

Some years back I had the privilege of writing a poem to mymom.  Astute friends will notice that I use very different language when describing my mom (d 2009) and my dad (d 2015).   They were decidedly different people, given to two different concepts of reality.  

My parents divorced in 1976, when I turned 16.

It is too simplistic to say that my Mom was about Spirit, and my Dad about Flesh.  Mom could be decidedly earthly, even carnal, while Dad used to lead us in daily devotions…but as far as poems, and archetypes go, that is not much off the mark.


My Mother lived in John the Baptist, my Father in John Muir.   My Mother longed for heaven… my father saw the stars.


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