These Walls

A poem for my daughter to write and dedicate to her father

Back to a beginning, these walls and I.
Not the first beginning for me,
and surely not for these walls, but we go back.
We know each other’s secrets.
Having seen each other scraped down,
And my father, how he worked,
telling me that they would turn out
better than I could hope, and they have.
Telling me, as we scraped, layer
from layer, paper from paint,
trying to find a smooth surface
on which to apply fresh color, achy, exhausted,
late into the night, me discouraged,
my father encouraging: “They will
turn out beautiful.” They didn’t –
not in the way that beauty is usually defined.
but my father insisted, saying that
he was El Greco, only not a
Greek, and living in Connecticut instead of Spain.
“And,” I pointed out, “other differences
being that El Greco did not use
Benjamin Moore, and that he did not paint
on bathroom walls.”
“That too,” my father admitted, “But I,” he exclaimed
“am the El Greco of the Bathroom.”
And perhaps that night he was,
so long ago, right before
he went mad and took off on what my brother refers to
as his “Gauguin period,” when
he started hanging out at the Polynesian Lounge,
telling strippers that they were wild orchids
of the South Seas
My mother had enough of that soon enough.
And she sailed off, back to Ohio,
Leaving these walls and me,
And our secrets, and our beginnings,
Our nights, our paint.

Mark McGuire-Schwartz sometimes imagines that he was raised by bears, and it shows. He has been published in many journals and on the bottoms of rocks. After 45 years of writing, he is in an MFA program to learn how. Mark is currently developing a new poetic form, called the 17. He is Co-Director of Poetry Institute – New Haven.