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To A Sad Daughter -- Michael Ondaatje

Guest poem sent in by Ameya Nagarajan
(Poem #1270) To A Sad Daughter
 All night long the hockey pictures
 gaze down at you
 sleeping in your tracksuit.
 Belligerent goalies are your ideal.
 Threats of being traded
 cuts and wounds
 --all this pleases you.
 O my god! you say at breakfast
 reading the sports page over the Alpen
 as another player breaks his ankle
 or assaults the coach.

 When I thought of daughters
 I wasn't expecting this
 but I like this more.
 I like all your faults
 even your purple moods
 when you retreat from everyone
 to sit in bed under a quilt.
 And when I say 'like'
 I mean of course 'love'
 but that embarrasses you.
 You who feel superior to black and white movies
 (coaxed for hours to see Casablanca)
 though you were moved
 by Creature from the Black Lagoon.

 One day I'll come swimming
 beside your ship or someone will
 and if you hear the siren
 listen to it. For if you close your ears
 only nothing happens. You will never change.

 I don't care if you risk
 your life to angry goalies
 creatures with webbed feet.
 You can enter their caves and castles
 their glass laboratories. Just
 don't be fooled by anyone but yourself.

 This is the first lecture I've given you.
 You're 'sweet sixteen' you said.
 I'd rather be your closest friend
 than your father. I'm not good at advice
 you know that, but ride
 the ceremonies
 until they grow dark.

 Sometimes you are so busy
 discovering your friends
 I ache with loss
 --but that is greed.
 And sometimes I've gone
 into my purple world
 and lost you.

 One afternoon I stepped
 into your room. You were sitting
 at the desk where I now write this.
 Forsythia outside the window
 and sun spilled over you
 like a thick yellow miracle
 as if another planet
 was coaxing you out of the house
 --all those possible worlds!--
 and you, meanwhile, busy with mathematics.

 I cannot look at forsythia now
 without loss, or joy for you.
 You step delicately
 into the wild world
 and your real prize will be
 the frantic search.
 Want everything. If you break
 break going out not in.
 How you live your life I don't care
 but I'll sell my arms for you,
 hold your secrets forever.

 If I speak of death
 which you fear now, greatly,
 it is without answers.
 except that each
 one we know is
 in our blood.
 Don't recall graves.
 Memory is permanent.
 Remember the afternoon's
 yellow suburban annunciation.
 Your goalie
 in his frightening mask
 dreams perhaps
 of gentleness.
-- Michael Ondaatje
Found this poem in a friend's house and thought it was a
beautiful expression of the relationship between a father
and his daughter.


Michael Ondaatje was born on September 12, 1943 in
Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). The son of Mervyn
Ondaatje and Doris Gratiaen, prominent members among the
inhabitants of what once comprised Ceylon's colonial
society. Mervyn Ondaatje was a tea and rubber-plantation
superintendent who was afflicted with alcoholism. Doris
Gratiaen performed part-time as a radical dancer,
inspired by Isadora Duncan. As a result of his father's
alcoholism, OndaatjeÕs parents eventually separated in
1954 and he moved to England with his mother.

Ondaatje was educated initially at St. Thomas College in
Colombo, Ceylon. After moving with his mother to England,
he continued his education at Dulwich College in London.
Between 1962-64, Ondaatje attended Bishop's University in
Lennoxville, Quebec. He then went on to obtain his B.A.
at the University of Toronto in 1965, and his M.A. at
Queen's University, in Kingston, Ontario, in 1967.
Ondaatje began his teaching career at the University of
Western Ontario, London between 1967-71. Today he is a
member of the Department of English at Glendon College,
York University in Toronto, Ontario, a position he has
held since 1971.

Ondaatje currently resides in Toronto with his wife,
novelist/editor Linda Spalding, where they edit Literary
Magazine. During his career Ondaatje has received
numerous awards and honors. He was awarded the Ralph
Gustafson Award, 1965; the Epstein Award, 1966; and the
President's Medal from the University of Ontario in 1967.
In addition, Ondaatje was the recipient of the Canadian
Governor-General's Award for Literature in 1971 and again
in 1980. Also in 1980 he was awarded the Canada-Australia
price and in 1992 he was presented with the Booker
McConnell Prize for his novel The English Patient.

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70 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

ehartlin said...

This is a beautiful poem, and I enjoyed reading the biographical sketch
of Michael Ondaatje. There is, however, an error in the list of his
honors and awards - there is no such institution as the University of

Priscilla Jebaraj said...

yes, it is a beautiful poem on fathers and daughters (i just have to
read it to my dad!), but it also fits minstrels' recent string of
"advice" poetry. "don't be fooled by anyone but yourself" -- now, that's
cool advice.


Magda Ali said...

I actually do not think that this poem is about a father loving his daughter soo much... to me it sounds like he is sexually abusing her... any thought??

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Flavensis Boreali said...

I don't understand the poem, and all you who are leaving bad remarks can stop it! If you don't like poetry, go to another website.

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Anonymous said...

This is a beautifully written poem. It is about the love of a father for his daughter. He knows he can't protect her forever and knows that he's hurt her. It is from the book "Secular Love." The daughter knows about the father's affair with another woman. Things are changing now. He is reminiscing as he knows nothing is going to be the same again.

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