“A Sestina for My Father’s Funeral” by Sunita Theiss

You didn’t have a son.
The work fell to our shaking hands.
We longed to overcome the sound—
The wails, the whispers.
I tried to think of your favorite song.
White linen and wood grain clouded my focus.

 I felt claustrophobic in that basement. I couldn’t focus.
I imagined the ones who had done this before us: sons
(Were there any daughters?) propelled by a tragic song.
A familiar discomfort as we raised our hands,
Fingers out, ready to press as we whispered,
“Did you hear that sound?”

After it stopped, I could still hear the rattling, rumbling sound.
Brown faces behind me snapped into focus,
Staccato language fell to whispers.
“Who will care for his daughters now?” “He has no son.”
I should have corrected them—raised a hand.
In Bollywood, we’d cut to a song.

I longed to be like you—even voiceless you still sang.
Absent a larynx, lips without sound
Until you summoned a mechanical voice with your hand.
But I couldn’t give you anything. I couldn’t focus.
I didn’t see you, your father’s son—
Didn’t know the torment of those whispers.

You chased newspapers and digital whispers
To a doctor with a penchant for puns and song.
He claimed one daughter and one son—
You were a distant memory; a foreign sound
In the background, out of focus.
He never took your small, outstretched hand.

Brightly colored pills found their place in that hand,
Your thoughts clouded by anxious whispers.
As you fell, the world slipped from focus.
Nothing, not even a song,
A gentle word,or a laugh—your favorite sound—
Could redeem your story, the forgotten son.

I held your hand and sang to you—a simple, quiet song,
Stroked your hair, whispered prayers, and waited for the siren sound.
People speaking, but I couldn’t focus. “No, he doesn’t have any sons.”

Sunita Theiss is a second-generation Indian-American writer living in Georgia. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Jaggery, MER VOX, Gordon Square Review, New Asian Writing, and others.

Image: “Flamingo at Sunset” by Anthony Burt

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