‘No Longer A Teenager’ by Gerald Locklin

my daughter, who turns twenty tomorrow,
has become truly independent.
she doesn’t need her father to help her
deal with the bureaucracies of schools,
hmo’s, insurance, the dmv.
she is quite capable of handling
landlords, bosses, and auto repair shops.
also boyfriends and roommates.
and her mother.

frankly it’s been a big relief.
the teenage years were often stressful.
sometimes, though, i feel a little useless.

but when she drove down from northern California
to visit us for a couple of days,
she came through the door with the
biggest, warmest hug in the world for me.
and when we all went out for lunch,
she said, affecting a little girl’s voice,
“i’m going to sit next to my daddy,”
and she did, and slid over close to me
so i could put my arm around her shoulder
until the food arrived.

i’ve been keeping busy since she’s been gone,
mainly with my teaching and writing,
a little travel connected with both,
but i realized now how long it had been
since i had felt deep emotion.

when she left i said, simply,
“i love you,”
and she replied, quietly,
“i love you too.”
you know it isn’t always easy for
a twenty-year-old to say that;
it isn’t always easy for a father.

literature and opera are full of
characters who die for love:
i stay alive for her.

‘No Longer A Teenager’ by Gerald Locklin from The Life Force Poems. © Water Row Books, 2002.

I’ve been a long-time fan of Gerald Locklin and his poetry, and this poem is a perfect example of his conversational writing that superficially has a casual chat with us as readers when it at the same time conveys deep truths about, in this case, a father/daughter [and more broadly parent/child] relationship.

It is largely the American colloquial style that prompts me to make this comparison, but he and his writing remind me of Charles Bukowski, but a much kinder and gentler version. That shouldn’t encourage too much analysis, so let me just say it as an off-the-cuff aside.

In my 1999 poetry teaching text Poems in your Pocket I included two Locklin poems, one that was a sweet whimsy of a piece – and there for that purpose – and the other ‘my son wants to ride the chairlift’ which is one of the most frightening stories I have ever read, telling as it does, and in that disarmingly casual Locklin way, about the fear and terror of his son falling from a chairlift, being so small when riding in it – ‘casual’ because it is anecdotal and the dread is really all in his imagination of likely events within the otherwise domestic situation, he also with his wife and youngest child, his daughter. She is one year old at the time/in the poem and I assume the daughter of ‘No Longer a Teenager’.

My other Locklin posts are here.

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