Generations: A poem by Arlene Pollack

To my father in his eightieth season, and to me.

I wished for a long life
And here I am, now eighty years,
Still wishing, wanting still
To walk in stride with you
And hold your hand,
Stepping over pebbles
And the soft white sand
That hold the sea at bay,
Wishing to rescue you from a misstep
Into the sea,
Needing to shelter you,
To dare a tidal wave
To pull you out to sea.
I am your father.
That alone does not enable me
To smooth the way, protect you,
Nor to guide you
Through the life you’ve made.
Yet, since the day
I held you in my arms
And fell in love,
I cannot shake the feeling
Of your being mine forever,
Of watching you from
Some point on the sand,
My little son,
As you walk out
Into the vast unknown.
The course of life
Has put you in my place
As keeper of your own dear ones
With whom you travel
On their own terrain,
The shell-incrusted beach
Along the vast and swirling sea,
Ready to pull them safely back.
Turn your head, my son, to see
An eighty-year-old fellow
Standing far behind with outstretched hand.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

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