Duende: My Father’s Last Breath. {poetry}


I was pondering my father’s last breath when I remembered Federico Garcia Lorca’s Theory and Play of the Duende.

Though generally the word has a modern context of a person’s unspoken charm or passion, and indeed, my father had those qualities, Lorca’s meaning applied to me. I understood it as that millisecond before the toreador’s sweep of the cape, or before that jeté on stage, or in the case of my father, that infinitesimal millisecond before…


I imagine my father’s last breath
As a conscious leap
Not unlike skis pushing off into snow slopes.
He knew the thrill
The exhilaration of life
And somehow he knew
After the third surgery to repair a leg
So he could walk
So he could swim
Somehow he knew it had failed.

He was seizing now. In and out of lucidity
His sharp mind that just three weeks before
Was reading the philosophers
Was responding to the mythologists
Was quipping in the wry humor that was his essence
That mind was seizing then sleeping then waking
Then sleeping…

He had transitioned from the hospital
To that beautiful room of his own
Designed for 24-hour nursing
Until he was strong for PT
Until he could walk.
He was only in that hospital bed in
That beautiful room for one day
Attended by his nurse Eli and his wife.
When I
Came to see him

And I
Walked into that beautiful room
And I
looked upon his frailty.

I tell you, his eyes brightened.
He motioned for me to sit bedside
His voice, I tell you
Mumble-jumbled from the trauma of surgery
I tell you, for a moment, just a moment,
Was clear and direct.

To the nurse, he spoke,
“Eli, this is my daughter Pamela.”
And what I heard
I tell you
Were words like notes in an orchestral score
A soliloquy his own
A cappella sung
Into that beautiful room
Where I sat with my father
As my father said to Eli
The truth:
I am his daughter

These notes in the music
So far but approaching
These words so brief but so full
They carried, I tell you
The song of a proud father
The tenderness of a father
The wisdom of a father
And this, I tell you, is what I heard —
Encapsulated the life with a father
Was the fruition of a full circle
Where everything that needed to be lived
And fought and worked and laughed
And raged and screamed
Had become in that last sentence
I tell you
The essential love of a father

And then

He fell to a deep snoring sleep.
The nurse and his wife whispered
Not of death but the next day’s appointment
With physical therapy.
They whispered the cause of the seizures
Constellated trauma from two surgeries in a month

I heard the whispers in his snores
He wanted to walk
He took a chance
But he knew the surgeries had failed.

I left the beautiful room, the beautiful house
The doting wife, the kind nurse
And returned home
But I tell you, I was already home
I was home in those words spoken to me
With a knowing, I tell you
That those would be his last words to me.

For soon after
He left his last breath to our world
And in a dream that was real
He pushed off into the steep slopes —
That moment, that breath
When he knew his very own duende:
A solo slalom whoosh-swoosh
Maneuvering moguls
In snow powder clouds
The purity taking his breath away
As the light of two suns shone like fire in his eyes.


Pamela Preston, a student of Carl Jung, Robert Graves, and the dead poets and philosophers, embarked on a literary, mythological quest in 1992 with a typewriter and a one-way ticket for Paris, France. Based in the French countryside for 20 years, Ms. Preston continues living and writing her personal myth in a world that is losing its agrarian culture and its legends. She adheres to the words of C.G. Jung, “… a myth is dead if it no longer lives and grows.” Pamela’s books and mandalas can be found on Marianne Press and Mythic Threads.


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