To A Sad Daughter

All night long the hockey pictures
gaze down at you
sleeping in your tracksuit.
Belligerent goalies are your ideal.
Threats of being traded
cuts and wounds
--all this pleases you.
O my god! you say at breakfast
reading the sports page over the Alpen
as another player breaks his ankle
or assaults the coach.

When I thought of daughters
I wasn't expecting this
but I like this more.
I like all your faults
even your purple moods
when you retreat from everyone
to sit in bed under a quilt.
And when I say 'like'
I mean of course 'love'
but that embarrasses you.
You who feel superior to black and white movies
(coaxed for hours to see Casablanca)
though you were moved
by Creature from the Black Lagoon.

One day I'll come swimming
beside your ship or someone will
and if you hear the siren
listen to it. For if you close your ears
only nothing happens. You will never change.

I don't care if you risk
your life to angry goalies
creatures with webbed feet.
You can enter their caves and castles
their glass laboratories. Just
don't be fooled by anyone but yourself.

This is the first lecture I've given you.
You're 'sweet sixteen' you said.
I'd rather be your closest friend
than your father. I'm not good at advice
you know that, but ride
the ceremonies
until they grow dark.

Sometimes you are so busy
discovering your friends
I ache with loss
--but that is greed.
And sometimes I've gone
into my purple world
and lost you.

One afternoon I stepped
into your room. You were sitting
at the desk where I now write this.
Forsythia outside the window
and sun spilled over you
like a thick yellow miracle
as if another planet
was coaxing you out of the house
--all those possible worlds!--
and you, meanwhile, busy with mathematics.

I cannot look at forsythia now
without loss, or joy for you.
You step delicately
into the wild world
and your real prize will be
the frantic search.
Want everything. If you break
break going out not in.
How you live your life I don't care
but I'll sell my arms for you,
hold your secrets forever.

If I speak of death
which you fear now, greatly,
it is without answers.
except that each
one we know is
in our blood.
Don't recall graves.
Memory is permanent.
Remember the afternoon's
yellow suburban annunciation.
Your goalie
in his frightening mask
dreams perhaps
of gentleness.

by Michael Ondaatje

Comments (3)

I had the great pleasure of meeting Michael Ondaatje after a reading of his works, both novels and poetry. I shared with him that I am a teacher and have used his poetry with my high school students. 'To A Sad Daughter' is a wonderful example of how man forms stereotypes, and the wise among us refuse to accept them. This adventure with Ondaatje made me a groupie of his forever... His prose, too, is poetry!
I have read most of your novels and they are great. This poetry is great. It hit home for me. It's ironic for a teacher like me to have struggles with my daughter in terms of her schooling and yet I had and have so many students who admire what I do for them in my class. Jona
Michael, I never had a daughter, just 5 sons. But when I read your poem, 'To a Sad Daughter', I felt as if she was my own daughter, the one I never had, It was like sitting on a veranda having a cool drink with you and talking about our daughters. Your poem went straight to my heart. I once wrote one to honor my daughters-in-law, but I would now call that one superficial compared to yours. Keep trying to see the Divine Light as it inspires you to keep writing. Willem