My Friend the Scholar Comes at Last to Attend His Father

Norbert Hirschhorn

He considered the wasted moult of a once
large, ferocious creature: mouth agape,
muscles twitching with every rattled breath.

Agapé–my friend the scholar marveled
at the homograph, and the thing that feasted
on his father. He laid a futon at the foot

of the high white bed, some books, a laptop,
a thermos. Nearby, an emesis basin,
dentures, bedpan, glass half-full of beaded water.

Sliding a hand inside his Dad’s, he felt it
grip back reflexly–a hand he remembered
from childhood, one he could find in any clutch

of strangers, find in the dark. He murmured in
their shared ur-language, the way mourners linger
to catch the dead up on news, or beg release.

Beneath balloons and flowers, he felt that mute
bewilderment of savanna elephants swaying
in a makeshift circle about one of theirs,

and stroked his Dad’s limbs with lotion and powder–
Vitriol would be more apt, he said to himself,
to memorialize the rage that seared them together:

the bull, the calf. But to what purpose? No answer.

About the poet:

Norbert Hirschhorn is a physician specializing in international public health, commended in 1993 by President Bill Clinton as an “American Health Hero.” He now lives in London and Beirut. His poems have been published in more than three dozen journals and in four full collections: A Cracked River, Slow Dancer Press, London (1999); Mourning in the Presence of a Corpse (2008) and Monastery of the Moon (2012), both from Dar al-Jadeed, Beirut; and To Sing Away the Darkest Days, Holland Park Press, London (2013) His work has won a number of prizes in the US and UK. His website is

About the poem:

“My friend died not long after his father, but the physical reconciliation he could affect was necessary to the experience with his own son. I was instructed never to let pride or pique come in the way of my relationships with my children, and wrote the poem with that in mind.”

Poetry editors:

Johanna Shapiro and Judy Schaefer


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