Asleep, I play guitar
Stroking every chord and string with virtuoso speed
Any tune is reality, any song committed to vibration
But in reality, failure is polite
Is quitting still quitting after trading practice for afternoon cartoons
After falling behind in class
After giving up on myself

“Love me tender” by Elvis Presley
Is the only song I’ve learned fully
On my red Pevay Predator no less
A song which I didn’t even know the words to
Until Grandma sang over my playing

Guitar, I regret you
You, my perennial failure, are not alone

My grandfather’s name is Stanley Allen
Or Allen as he preferred to be called
Or Papa as we called him
Papa was always known as a quiet man
Even in death, he went with as little fuss as possible

He wore large, but thin-framed, square glasses
The type you think about when considering Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation
His hair, a gray matted toupee, always gently and neatly combed to the side
Displayed a constant appearance of formality, of honor, of duty

Coming of age during the Great Depression and the Second World War
Papa was a workaholic
Although the details of his death are limited to
Images of my grandma returning from a day’s shopping
Finding Allen’s silent body quieter than usual
Realizing he isn’t responding to her questions
Moving as quickly as her body could take her to call 911
My understanding of his death through litterings of family conversation
Suggest a struggle to deal with a recent retirement
Retirement being
A notion unthinkable and unknown to the greatest generation

Papa was a Navy man, so my father tells me
During WWII it was his job to flash Morse code signals to other boats at night to communicate
And I can see him there
Standing silently in a starry night
The boat drifts up and down over the sea
Waves splash lightly on the ship’s hull
Allen’s lips sealed and his eyes sternly focused on
The dark distance
He’s waiting
Waiting there listening
And watching for the birth of a new star
It’s the type of night a man like Allen would have found peaceful

My father proudly recounts the story of a horrible
Stormy night aboard Papa’s Navy ship
The fists of Gaia pounded the vessel back and forth
Threatening to shred it apart
And my Papa, still a young man, fearful for his life
Made a wager with God
Should the storm break and he live to see home
He would never complain again
And as far as I know
He never did

That’s really a good way to understand what Allen was all about
He never complained about anything and
Never smiled greater than when taking that big silver dollar out of his pocket
Showing magic tricks to his grandchildren
Waving his hand like a magician
Making that flashing coin jump behind our ears
As if it was never actually there
Chuckling heartily at our surprise

While I admire the bits of his life that I know
Through these stories or childhood memories
I can’t say I know my Papa
And though I may someday learn to play guitar
There are some things I’ll never do

Off in the distance
In the fog of a deep night
Flashing code to me
It shines like a silver dollar
Always in the distance
And when I look for him
He’s not there