838: The Truth

838: The Truth

838: The Truth

Today’s episode is guest hosted by Jason Schneiderman.


I’m Jason Schneiderman, and this is The Slowdown.

A pretty common response to loss is to encourage other people to cherish what…and whom…they still have. When someone loses a parent, they remind the people around them to call their own mom and dad more often, or they post on social media to exhort you to hold your loved ones a little bit closer tonight. It’s not bad advice, of course, but in my experience, it’s not the saying I love you that’s hard, or the hug that’s hard, it’s the showing up every day, the long conversations that veer into awkward moments of disagreement or the demands imposed by care or necessity.

Before my mother went into a very risky surgery that she did not ultimately survive, I asked her what it would mean to her if she died. It was a hard conversation, but I’m so grateful that we were able to have it. It took me years to figure out what her death meant to me, but I think it helped that I knew what it meant to her.

Today’s poem calibrates that sense of love and distance, of what it means to cherish someone while being able to speak your love to everyone, except the person you cherish. Listen to the way the poem shifts at the end, how the “you” in the poem starts as the reader, and ends as the father. And if you want to call someone after this poem, to tell them that you love them, or if you want to hold someone a little tighter, go ahead. It never hurts.

The Truth
by Natasha Rao

I am only kind to my father
in poems he will never read.

I try to imagine him small
the way my grandmother tells it:

patient, deer-limbed, pondering
polynomials. Wanting only

a Toblerone bar for his birthday
to eat alone in his room

away from the violence of exploding
raindrops, pitiless Madras summer.

I wonder if he is proud
of his life like I am proud

of my poems—the best
we could do. In another world

I would go down the stairs
to where my father is sitting alone

with his wine glass and I would tell him
I’m sorry. But I am a woman

the same way my father is a man: always
a little embarrassed.

Somehow it is easier to say I hated
practicing piano in the morning

than it is to say I loved
the way you turned the pages for me.

I cringed being woken up each morning,
pulled blinds and tough light, but I loved

your warm and capable hands on my forehead
brushing away the remnants of a dream.

“The Truth” by Natasha Rao from LATITUDE © 2021 Natasha Rao. Used by permission of the American Poetry Review.