Poem of the Week: an excerpt from Leontia Flynn’s “Letter to Friends”

My father’s wits have flown away like birds
out of that shell, though on the odd good day
watching him walk or do some task, when words
aren’t called for or my thoughts drift, well then, hey,
things are just fine. Who knows? The heart that breaks
daily at each new symptom of decline
isn’t my own (abstraction I can bear)
and then that bubble bursts: my shoulder aches
under its flu-jab, and it strikes again
how weird it is to miss him when he’s there.

Leontia Flynn is a poet and critic living in Belfast. She teaches at Queen’s University Belfast and “Letter to Friends” appears in 2011’s Profit and Loss. She has published the poetry collections These Days (2004) and Drives (2008), as well as Reading Medbh McGuckian (2014), a book of criticism.

She has written several poems on her father’s aging, but this excerpt has always stood out to me for its evocative description of her father’s facilities as active and independent of himself, something that has willfully left his body behind.


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