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Poetry Moment: David Chin and 'Sleeping Father'

WPSU Poetry Moment David Chin
Poet David Chin

Poetry Moment on WPSU is a program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Host Shara McCallum is this year’s Penn State Laureate.

Today’s poem is “Sleeping Father” by David Chin.

David Chin’s poems have appeared in various journals and anthologies. He has published two books of poetry, Chalked in Orange and The China Cupboard and the Coal Furnace. Chin has lived in northeastern Pennsylvania for over 25 years. He teaches at Penn State Wilkes-Barre, where he is Program Coordinator of English.

“Sleeping Father” is at once a tender portrait of a father, of father-son relationships, and of migrations across several generations of a family. We begin the poem in the present, with a deceptively simple scene. The speaker of the poem watches his father sleeping in his chair. From there, the poem moves backward in time and across an ocean. The images Chin calls forth increasingly become metaphor. The vantage point of the poem becomes more and more slippery. With translucent description and deft transitions, Chin merges points of view. The poem renders the perspective of sons carrying the memories and dreams of their fathers.

Here's—

Sleeping Father

My father sits in his chair and snores.
Inhaling, he rasps like an anchor chain
rattling off a ship, dropping into the sea.
When he exhales, waves hiss on distant shores.

In his dream, he carries the kite his uncle made for him
and walks the village path, thinking of his father
who sailed for America years ago.
I wonder if it has to be this way with fathers.

As he sleeps with his head tipped back,
his mouth half open, behind shut eyelids
the frailest of objects climbs the sky
and a string slides through his fingers.

That was “Sleeping Father” by David Chin.

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