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January’s Child: For My Daughter

Justine and my Mother
in another place, in another time.

I saw you first as some small prized gem
Passed between white-masked men
In rooms ablaze with light, and laid
Wrapped and so precious in my hands,
That I felt then I had somehow stolen
Some full measure of fire from heaven
And held it now on earth forever,
As firm as stone, as light as breath.

In all my days, of all my days,
No gift was given me but you,
And this I knew as we first met
In that bronze-bright room
Where, draped in white, I heard
The music of your newborn’s heart,
And knew you’d stand the first in mine
For all the moments mine would mark,
And those moments all of yours beyond.

Since then the separate rooms enclose us now.
Still in the meadows of my heart,
In that first moment, all my circles close,
Like runners rounding third at dusk,
And safe, at last, come loping home.

That moment was the best of life,
Held in my heart where distance dies,
Yet I am trapped in these thin lines
That cannot paint a love so wide,
And all my mind and meager art
Lies stunned and speechless struck.

In life, our words are clipped and brief.
We do not say what we would speak,
Since saying would in some strange way
Dissolve the moment, reverse the day,
And risk the heart would come to grief.
All is left unspoken, unexplored but sensed,
Our interrupted lives accepted as the wind,
As some red weather over which
We have no control beyond a shrug,
As if to speak of love except at slant
Were to invite the derision of the sky,
And so we must in silence trust
That in not speaking our love will grow.
And if you wish it, why then I wish it so.

Let all that be as it shall be, but here I shall reveal
Those deeper notions that I hold, and always shall,
For you, my only child, as on the dawn
Of this one day in deepest winter I mindful mark
How we began beyond all those winters gone.
And if, in speaking here in such strange silence, I
Will say too much by saying short, I trust
In your emerging love to be, as all doting fathers must,
Forgiven these few words; if not today, in time,
For not to speak in time would be the cruelest way.

Of all the gifts I’ve lost you are
The single one I seek to find.
But that I know I cannot know,
For I by you must now be found,
As you your child must also hold,
Until the woman you shall be
Unfolds from child and stands apart,
Upon some hill I shall not know
Where all that is spreads out below,
And following paths to trails to roads
You trace your own bright shadow home.

How distant now was that chill day
When wrapped you first drowsed within
My forearm, head cupped in my hand,
And dazed and dazzled, gazed about
That buzzing room as if to see
All the things that you would be,
Awakened now from that strong sleep
That had embraced and nourished you
Since, in another afternoon’s half-sleep,
You were begun in a patch of sun,
That fell in softened patterns through the boughs,
Where two doves murmured your as yet unknown name,
And, in the softened rustle of their breaths,
Sang you into being as the music of our dream.

Now that spring has faded far,
Although I hear its music still,
But you, my dearest, darling girl,
Are of that spring in every cell,
And more than dreams could ever tell.

The years from there to here all blur,
Their endless seconds ended each
In their short span, and here we stand
Within another winter’s day to mark
The day when first at last we met.

Within that room your gift was such,
I did not think that it could be
Not mine forever, yet now I know
That all our children must be free.
We hold them only through our letting go

— Written for my daughter on her sixteenth birthday in January 1997

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • steve walsh January 16, 2019, 11:32 AM

    I’m somewhat afraid to ask, are you still close?

  • Vanderleun January 16, 2019, 4:27 PM

    Alas we are not. And I have never understood why. I think it has something to do with Parental Alienation Syndrome but I’ve never been sure.

  • David January 16, 2019, 5:33 PM

    Gerard, so sad it is to grow old and become estranged by the years from our children. The ones so dear and close to us, who meant so much on that distant day.
    And also how we sometimes become ourselves estranged from our parents, for the same distant and unfathomable reasons, because we are all human and weak and broken. And we have forgotten how magical and mysterious love really is.
    I hope that someday love will renew the thing that lies between you and your daughter. And that before the Last Day, you will once again feel and know again what was lost.
    I too have children, and it is a struggle to stay close to them, when we all have our own lives to live, and not to hover over them and interfer with their own spirit and life.

  • SAHMmy January 16, 2019, 5:45 PM

    This is beautiful Gerard. I hope you don’t mind but I’ll be praying for you both at daily Mass.

  • Howard Nelson January 16, 2019, 6:22 PM

    It occurs to me that the love you have for your daughter is like the love God has for us. Thus, you are in good company. You are blessed; there are adults who have no children to love.

  • Anonymous January 16, 2019, 7:19 PM

    For 50 plus years, our culture has done everything it can to poison the relationship between fathers and daughters. For 50 plus years, toxic feminism has been indoctrinated and brainwashed an entire generation to blame men for all the problems women create. For 50 plus years, double-standards have been applied to every institution from family courts to education to earning a living to support a family at the expense of fathers being able to do their jobs well. For 50 plus years, women have long forgotten how to be good wives, parents, daughters. And sure enough, women blame men for that along with everything else.

    The result is a mortal wound in the soul of America from which, as history has taught, nations do not recover from. Lady Macbeth would be proud of what women in America have become as they try to wash the blood from their hands.

  • Jeff Brokaw January 17, 2019, 5:42 AM

    A beautiful tribute. May the distance between you shrink with each passing day. So many years already wasted … but it’s never too late.

  • jd January 17, 2019, 7:50 AM

    Such a beautiful poem, Gerard. Thank you for posting.
    I will send it to our daughter even though she will probably not read it.
    We can only keep trying.

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