Prayers for My Father

I was with him, back then,  
on a cold, wet and windy night 
in early September  a night for ghosts
and giving up, yet also for some peace 
in the going  a release from long, 
slow sickness and the hours 
in which this vital, dramatic man
had dwindled to skin and bone
with barely a voice or breath, 
as he lay helpless under the bedspread 
and a few late-summer flies 
gathering like jackals on the ceiling.

Mother had just pulled me 
out of a groggy sleep,
her urgent voice like a tow line
that dragged me into her room.
She handed me a red book
and hurried downstairs to the telephone 
to spread the expected news.
I knelt down and mumbled
a few prayers for the dying,
watching him in his gaunt stillness
while I held on to the book 
as if it were the cup of salvation.

I paused; there was one more breath  
a short, halting puff of air 
as his lungs pushed up and out,
then fell back into his body
like a tired old bellows,
or someone shifting to a deeper sleep.
The room, too, seemed to take a breath
as if to honour his passage  
the brief but graceful farewell 
of spirits gathered in a sacred space,
before they settled into a silence as deep
as the holiest prayer you could imagine.

John Morris