896: Portrait of My Father With the Letter V

896: Portrait of My Father With the Letter V

896: Portrait of My Father With the Letter V


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

I’ve a collection of colognes accumulating on my dresser. They are in close proximity to each other, looking like a little skyline of glassware. I only make use of their fragrances during special occasions and holidays. Whenever I reach for one of the smoky brown or sky-blue colored bottles, they put me in mind of my grandparents. Their bedroom resembled a perfumery. Certain scents carry over time the essence of their existence.

Both revered elegance, sartorial awareness, and personal style as statements of personality. My grandmother, a self-taught milliner, loved Sundays, if for nothing else, as an occasion to wear her flamboyant hats to church. I wonder, What habits, what objects, will casually trigger for my children a remembrance of me and what I cared about?

Will it be the dinner parties I hosted that will make them value friendship, laughter, and late night conversations? Or perhaps they will remember the towers of books in my home office they gently stepped around? Or will they recall my belief in service and the worth and power of people to positively impact communities which drives my participation on nonprofit boards?

Who we are today, and eventually, who we are in memory, grants our loved one’s access to modes of living. It can be these small practices, like spritzing a cologne bottle, that ensure meaning and emotional stability. We can connect in remembrance of traditions of existence that affirm who we fundamentally are and what we could possibly become.

Today’s portraiture poem is also a disguised epistle, a letter chiefly to the speaker. It is a poem that reminds us how we discover both our past and future when we account for and review the lives of those we have lost.

Portrait Of My Father With The Letter V
by Bill Hollands

Valedictorian. Ivy League. A virgin
when you married, or so you said
when we had “the talk.” To me you were all
Aqua Velva and a vodka martini in the evening,
two olives on a toothpick. You taught me
to replace a divot and how to pronounce
vichyssoise. Avowed Democrat. Achievement
a must. In your prime unbeatable
in Trivial Pursuit and a suave dancer
to boot. Vain enough to own a toupee
but kept it hidden. Private? Veiled?
Reserved, for sure. Did you grieve
for your son and wife? Poetry lover,
you’d have preferred something formal here—
a villanelle perhaps, and you’d have known
what that meant. Dad, I’m sorry
this is simple free verse. Nevertheless, 
a valediction. You were all vim 
and vigor to the very end. Covid death
number twenty-five thousand, give
or take, now vapor.

"Portrait of My Father with the Letter V" by Bill Hollands. Originally published in The Adroit Journal. Used by permission of the poet.