{An Umbrella Invitational}

Corey Mesler

is the owner of Burke’s Book Store, in Memphis, Tennessee, one of the country’s oldest (1875) and best independent bookstores. He has published poetry and fiction in numerous journals including  Rattle, American Poetry Journal, Thema, The Adirondack Review, Poet Lore and others.

He has also been a book reviewer for The Memphis Commercial Appeal and Memphis Flyer. A short story of his was chosen for the 2002 edition of New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best. Talk, his first novel, appeared in 2002. His 2nd novel, We Are Billion-Year-Old Carbon, came out in January 2006. His first full-length collection of poetry, Some Identity Problems, is due out in 2007.  Most importantly, he is Toby and Chloe’s dad and Cheryl’s husband. Visit his website

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My Father “There were human lives organized around these ways and houses, and that they, the houses, say, were the analogue, and that what men created they also were, through some transcendent means, I could not bring myself to concede.”—Saul Bellow

“This is not my beautiful house. This is not my beautiful wife.”—David Byrne

He wore clip-on ties and
short-sleeved shirts;
on weekends shorts with black socks.
He went to work
by carpool and dinner was
promptly at 4:45
upon his return.
Every day he worked with numbers,
figuring how E. I. DuPont
could save a penny here and there
on sodium.
Better living through chemicals.
His brother, Bill, worked for
DuPont, also. Every
visit from Uncle Bill brought us new
kitchen sponges, gifts
from the cellulose plant where he worked.
There they made something solid,
or nearly. My dad
only added columns of fives and sixes.
It was hard to get a fix
on what he did all day.
Nights he watched
TV from the LazyBoy while we did
our homework on the floor:
Mannix, Gunsmoke, Dean Martin.
He lost his father when he was just a boy.
Grew up fast.
Went to war, retired at 61.
I’m 44. I take 4 different kinds
of medication for an anxiety dis-ease.
Better living through chemicals.
When my therapist tells me I had too
little father, I know what
he means. But,
picture the man. Large, gentle, hard-
working and responsible.
Always there if not
right in the middle of things. That
was left to Mom,
her hands busy inside the mess
life bestrews about us.
My father watched it happen around him
as if he couldn’t imagine
how he’d gotten there, as if we were a
strange garden,
which had grown up around him.
Picture him with a look of innocence, a look
of passivity, a look
that said, all these children, Goddam I love
them, but where did
they come from? How did we all get here?
Picture him loving and lost
like all of us, like the whole blessed lot of us.

[Originally published in Steel Point Quarterly and in the anthology Best of Memphis (Jeff Crook, ed.)]


Artist’s Statement

T his poem is the first part of a longer poem written about the death of my father. The death of a parent, especially the first death, the one that instructs, is an obvious turning point in anyone’s life. For me, it engendered a torrent of words. This poem alone grew week by week. I found I had a lot to say about my father and to my father. The conversations that we couldn’t hold—for whatever reason sons and fathers freeze in each other’s company—while he was alive became of paramount importance to me after he was gone. So, we talk. Almost daily, we talk. This poem was my opening gambit and this explication of it only the latest piece of dialogue.