Category Archives: Michigan

My Dad’s Birthday

April 2nd was my father’s birthday. Family story has it that his mother held out when she was in labor with him so he would not be born on April Fool’s Day. I don’t know if it works that way, a baby is born when he or she is ready. In any case he was born on April 2.About 23 years ago, when he was just 60, he died of a heart attack following minor surgery. He was a complex man. In many ways I was a Daddy’s girl. But at other times I was an outcast too. I’ve written a lot about many facets of our complex relationship. Here are four of those poems. “The Legacy” is from the very beginning of my poetic journal. “Upon Serious Consideration” I wrote when I was trying to deal with emotions (particularly fear) of being diagnosed with elevated blood pressure, which my dad had for a long time. The other two poems were triggered by contemplating feet and from yoga meditation, respectively. I never know when some bit of truth is going to come through.

10/14/95

The Legacy

My dad had a way of seeing
that he passed on to me,
a way of looking at small things
like spider webs and squirrels,
a way of looking at large things
like waterfalls and sunsets.

He knew when there would be
an eclipse of the moon
and we would watch.
We’d sit out on August nights,
lying back on our picnic table,
to search the skies for falling stars.

He knew how things worked,
how to take apart and
put back together.
He could fix bikes and cars
and washers and plumbing,
and I got some of this, too.

When I was older
my dad had a way of receiving
just what I had to give,
of not always asking for more
than I offered.

This was true of him
with others too.
What a gift he had this way!
I’ve tried to do this,
but it doesn’t come easy to me.

This is not to say
all was well with my father.
He spent most of my life really,
stuck and not happy and dying.

He’d take medicine or have surgery,
do what the doctors said,
but he wouldn’t or couldn’t examine
or change his ways
to become healthy and whole.

What happened to the strapping boy of sixteen
who biked a hundred miles in one day
to visit his uncle, then rode back home again?
What happened to his sense of adventure
and freedom and spirit?

I don’t know.
Lots of things can happen in a life.
Why are some crushed
and others thrive?

Yet I see how much of me now
comes from this man.
How much he passed on
stays with me still
and has brought me to
this perfect moment.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 1995

6/1/05

Upon Serious Consideration

I am not my father
what he did or did not do
is not my choosing;

how he died,
how he lived,
whether he was happy,

or satisfied
had little to do with me,
his oldest daughter.

What he could tolerate,
what abuse he got and gave,
his temper, his intellect,

his humor, his blood pressure,
blood sugar, cholesterol,
scars, mistakes, history,

none of this is mine.
I have a fresh slate
upon which to write.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2005

6/11/06

Composite Feet

Perhaps the lack of metatarsal arch
from my mother, the shortened toes,
bunion (genetically inclined).

And from my father (gone now twenty years)—
I don’t remember his feet, perhaps I got the high arches,
the high insteps, now falling.

From him I got my love of walking.
In his prime I remember one day—
maybe when the house was up for sale

and the kids needed to be away—
he took us to the woods somewhere near
and we walked until exhausted—

that was the point. And at that point
none of us could best him—not like later.

And I remember when I was older
and did not go on family vacations
to state parks in Michigan,

my father was driving north
and the car overheated and to keep going
he ran the heater—in deep summer—

not knowing the diabetic neuropathy
was so advanced he couldn’t feel
his foot burning. And when they

arrived and set up camp
and he took off his shoes
and took off his socks

the skin of his right foot—
his accelerator foot—
came off too.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2006

9/19/06

From Yoga Meditation

I am playing piano
my father sits on the sofa
in the living room
of our house on Eastwood.
He listens to Moonlight Sonata
and improvising sometimes for hours.
I play and he listens.
I do not know how often this happened
maybe once or maybe regularly.
I loved to play and felt it relax him.
I do not remember him ever
commenting or complimenting,
just listening to his oldest daughter
do what she loved.
And that was…and is…enough.

Do you know how hard it is
to re-write the old stories
to heal from wounds old and deep
to rest, finally?
To remember even harsh things
with compassion and understanding
to forgive and let go?
It is hard sometimes
but can be done
and must be done
to heal and move on.

This story of playing piano
and listening is true.
To remember so vividly
the room, the furniture,
the draped windows along the side
to see him so clearly sitting there
what a gift to have him back
for a bit.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2006

Michigan Summer

The first time I stayed at a hotel was on my wedding night. I was 22, with a fresh B.S. in Zoology from the University of Michigan. Growing up, family summer vacations meant camping out in Michigan state parks. Just once we rented a cottage on the beach for a week. R. P. Scherer Corp. where my Dad worked, closed down two weeks every July. And so we packed the car and off we went. With a family that eventually included seven children it saved money. We camped by the Great Lakes: Lake Huron and Lake Superior (Brimley State Park in sight of the Soo Locks) and smaller lakes like Higgins Lake, etc. Michigan has more than 11,000 inland lakes. This poem is about rich childhood memories that were triggered by smell. And like all memories, only partly reliable. Each of us has different recollections of those summer jaunts.

6/9/96

Smoky Hair

Standing in the shower
with the smell of smoky hair,
the memories of summers
thirty years ago or so, sharp and clear,

when the whole family
would pile into a much-used,
sturdy station wagon
and head north to camp, not really far,

still inside the state; my father insisted, since
we paid taxes for those parks.
We’d head toward water, a Great Lake
or small pond, for a week or a bit more

of tented living, sleeping in bags on hard ground,
usually over a rock or two felt through air mattresses gone flat.
I looked forward to exploring, riding horses, hiking,
swimming, jumping the waves, diving like dolphins,

long, beach walks on soft, wet sand.
Eating meals prepared outside, home food never tasted so good!
Fresh, juicy Michigan peaches and tomatoes,
blueberry pancakes or oatmeal made on the Coleman stove.

Black nights under stars, so bright and numerous
we seemed to be suspended in outer space.
Each dry evening Dad lit a campfire
of collected sticks and logs

to keep away the damp and bugs.
We’d stare into leaping flames, a favorite pastime.
After a night or two, all our clothes and hair
would smell of smoky night fires,

burning companionably under the stars.
In the day, Dad would
drive off to find something new,
a waterfall perhaps, museum, or a scenic stop or two.

And everyone had to go
where everyone was going,
usually where Dad had in mind,
a bit of local color, a landmark or shrine.

A favorite picture: all of us, arm in arm,
standing under Tahquamenon Falls
water rushing out in front,
tan faces, wide, white vacation smiles.

***

We still had chores to do:
watch the kids, some quite small,
wash clothes, air sleeping bags, cook,

set the table, wash dishes,
straighten and sweep out sand,
without the conveniences of home.

One time, on our first outing,
when we totaled only seven,
my older brother, Tom, and I woke early
and left a note: Gone Fishing.

With one rod and one sinker
we went off at just light,
around the clear bright lake,
no goal in mind, but adventure.

We stayed together and fished some
and lost the sinker,
eventually circling back
in time for breakfast.

I don’t remember, but
I can imagine the response
to our leaving without permission.
Still, the impression that remains

is of rare freedom
and fresh, bright morning sun
and being together
with my adored, older brother.

Another time, somewhat later,
I woke before the rest,
not a usual occurrence
as I have always been a night bird.

I went down to the beach
on my own in the pre-dawn,
dim, quiet light
and soaked it up,

enough to hold onto
for a lifetime,
but that is another story…

***

For a while we each had our own
sturdy beer case in which to pack all
we’d need for the week or two,
each responsible for our own.

One dress outfit for Sunday church
(followed by a restaurant dinner), enough socks and shorts,
jacket, tops and underwear, bathing suit and shoes
to hold us with minimal washing.

One summer I packed only one sock and went
horseback riding sockless. I ended the first day
sunburned, muscles sore, and a quarter sized spot of skin
worn off my ankle. Still I slept the sleep of the justly satisfied.

The heavy cardboard beer cases fit nicely
in the wood car-top carrier
designed and built by my handy Dad.
We’d load up the station wagon in early morning,

cases and coolers wedged together,
sleeping bags laid out in back
with seats flat, where small kids
lay side by side like sardines.

I don’t mean to imply
all was smoothness and ease,
the ride was often hours
and I’m sure we bickered.

But mostly we made the best of it,
singing crazy songs and playing wacky, word memory
games like: I Spy and My Father Went Down To The Bottom
Of The Detroit River and with him he brought…

made up and recited in alphabetical order, each taking
a silly turn. Mom always brought
traveling candy, especially lemon drops
for Dad. He drove as fast as allowed

or even a bit more,
left arm draped out the window,
getting unevenly sunburned,
no air-conditioning those hot July days.

We would arrive at the park ranger’s office,
somewhat later than hoped for
and get our spot (or not)
for the days and nights

we needed, once on a beach
where the tent stakes blew out in a storm,
usually in the woods, a cleared area
with a picnic table and matted, grassy space

to set up the tent or camper.
Along the beaten, dirt camp road
would be a bath and shower
to walk down to on dark, bug-specked nights.

We’d walk in the dark
to wash up at each day’s end,
sandy and sunburned, tired and mostly content,
free of the normal routine.

We always made friends
with our temporary neighbors, Dad
finding a long-lost, distant cousin
or boyhood friend just down the road.

Then the grown ups would gather at night
to talk and play cards by lantern light,
and we might roast marshmallows and go
to bed early, exhausted from activity and fresh air.

My sister, Michelle, used to
burn her marshmallows on purpose
then blow them out and pop them in her mouth.
I preferred to aim for brown perfection

of toasted white puffs evenly golden,
taken just before they melted off the stick.
Sometimes I took off the crust
and re-toasted the gooey inside.

***

One year it rained the entire trip.
What a long vacation that was!
Eventually Dad and Mom bought a tarp
at the Sears in town and made a side porch

where we could sit at our picnic table
and play board games, cards, or drink hot cocoa.
We still went out driving
to look for new sights,

but it was too cold for the beach
or even for shorts,
so we each lived in our one warm outfit
and the matching gray, zipper-sweatshirts

with the navy, thermal-lined hoods.
We went out in the rain, in our khaki, army surplus raincoats.
Even so, it was a change and made for good stories,
and made coming home all the better;

how strange it felt to walk on a real floor!

***

The drive home was not a fun affair,
as we were confined again
with people we’d already
spent too much time with.

When we got within
a safe distance from home,
we’d stop at a Dairy Queen
and all get cones,

graded from baby size to large,
depending on age and position of power.
Marie, two years younger than me,
always made her dripping, soggy cone last.

And we’d all quite happily lick
and chase dribbles, surprised at this usual treat,
for we never knew if this time
would be the time it didn’t work out.

How good it felt, how strange,
to sleep on sheets in our own beds,
to wash dishes in a sink with running water,

to pull a cold drink or ice out of the refrigerator,
to have a bathroom right in the house,
to watch television, to talk on the phone.

Isn’t that what vacation is all about:
a break from the everyday
to enable a fresh, grateful look?

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 1996