The Story Behind “What Father Brought Home” by Catherine Cobb Morocco


Today’s post is written by Catherine Cobb Morocco, whose poem “What Father Brought Home” appears in our Fall 2015 issue.

What Father Brought Home” draws on my memories of my father’s homecoming after the Second World War. Much about the war and his return were confusing—where he was in the world, whether he was in danger. My parents did not speak much about the war years, and my siblings and I were left to piece together what we learned about this family period over many decades. We learned that despite being a tenured philosophy professor, our father enlisted as a petty seaman, so that his leftist politics would be less open to scrutiny. I picked up sense of dread around the word “Nagasaki,” but it was much later that I learned he had driven to the very center of the devastated city in an open jeep, only a month after the bomb was dropped.

Children are attuned to emotional tensions in a family, but may lack the information and conceptual knowledge to understand at the time what they are sensing. When we write about our childhoods as adults, we have the opportunity to re-view an early time from an adult perspective. This brings the writing challenge of whether and how to use our current vocabulary, syntax, and understandings to recreate an earlier experience. My goal in this poem was to reveal the sense of mystery that I saw in the early memories—the juxtaposition of beauty with intimations of something darker—bravery in the face of terrible violence and a father’s emotional remoteness.

The first stanza pictures the astonishing beauty of a woman’s face shimmering in the bottom of a filled sake cup. Kimonos are exquisite, but the robed women in the second stanza are shielding melting faces. The child probably overheard fragments about the effects of the Atom Bomb. The fourth and fifth stanzas raise the question of whether the father’s homecoming gift and his smiling photo in a jaunty sailor hat are what they seem. If the glorious sky and airplanes behind the smiling, handsome young father aren’t real, what is?

About the Author

Catherine Cobb Morocco was born in South Dakota and currently lives in Newton, Massachusetts. Her first book, Moon without Craters or Shadows (Aldrich 2014) explores her recovery from brain injury. “Son’s Story” from that volume won the Dana Foundation (Neuroscience) prize for poetry about the brain.  Her poems are published in The Massachusetts Review, Prairie Schooner, The Spoon River Poetry Review, The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, Salamander, Hamilton Stone Review, CALYX and Poet Lore. She is first author of two professional books on the role of writing in teaching for deep understanding with adolescents.

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