Ode to Fred Mahler

My father Frederick Ernest Mahler, born 17 June 1934, died on 12 December 2016 due to multiple complications including emphysema and diseases in his feet. He was a war veteran, military historian, camper, collector, and sales and marketing representative for Mobil Oil Corp. He loved his family. Here is a poem in his honor.            

And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Luke 23:42-43 (ESV)

I remember the day I met you on the covered bridge
The double date where I preferred you to my own date
And you preferred me to yours
They were escorts to our rendezvous

Another covered bridge is here

Kurt…son…thank you
Kristen…daughter wise…farewell
Kay…sister…I’ll say hello to the Ridgewood gang for you
Grandsons, granddaughters: carry on the names!

“Dad, do you want to stay or do you want to go?”
“Are you trusting Jesus as you go?”

Off comes the breathing mask
Off the bindings
Off the pushing
Off the striving

I chose this path, it is my own
But the waters at my neck are cold
The shore a darkness visible
My heart in May Day pumping, bursting

I gasp! I fade!
I drown! I drown!
Down I go…down…down…
There is nothing here
Nothing to hold onto
No one to hold onto



I thirst…

My feet are standing on level ground.
Pebble beach
Singing surf
Chattering bubbles between my toes
Archen original Capri Cliff rising before me
Baptized in dawn as he lifts his head above the bay

My feet are sun-bronzed
My arms tan and smooth. How?
Where are the bandages?
Where the rot? The wounds?
Where the mottled, pin-pricked flesh and tubes?
They are not here

My arches feel the small smooth stones beneath them
Curving in submission to my strength
My skin the warm sand receiving them
Embracing them as in a mother’s arms or father’s
Or bride’s

My lungs fill, the sky inside me now
My heart alive, in tune with sun and air
The deeper I breathe, the lighter the load
Achilles heel now healed
I run! I run!
Each stride a cannon burst of pride!
I pound! I pound! Seven leagues a stride!
I cross the map of uncharted gulfs and future homes. The seagulls fly!

The water comes close here
A grotto as dazzling as nebulae and Caribbean sea combined
I dive! I dive!
I breathe all the deeper in the deep!
I cry! I cry!
All pain and memories washed
Some put to sleep
Some awakened with a voice I never knew they had
Back in the shadowlands

All things are clear now
All things new

And up I come in some Pacific Ocean rich
With fleets of dauntless formidable ships
“Come up here!”
The angel admiral says
“And I will show you better things than this!”

And we arise to cruising altitude
Where airborne flotillas
Of which every man-machine of war and peace
Was type and model—
Now I am aboard

“Permission granted,” he says, and
Leaves me to the helm with full rank upon my shoulders
Insignia upon the breast: three-shield heraldry
Embroidered with every last thread of my story
And I pilot the grand thing
The work of mechanical art
A ship at home in air as much as water
As much as heart

Whose cyclone engines throb with
Everlasting antiphonic proclamation
“Mercy triumphs over judgment!”
“Mercy triumphs over judgment!”

Here I fit. Here I qualify
Here I’m not too tall or thin or large or ill or unconnected
Or too anything to be left behind
No mishap can reach me here
No tragic twist of fate
No ringing in the ears
No stinging news that I no longer play a part of what I worked so hard
To collect and to categorize
To name and to organize
To build and to file
To have and to hold

The sand here is not the sinking kind
It is glory
To glory
To glory
Ah! I see! These are the wings the poet flew
When he stretched out his hand
From that open canvas-covered cockpit
And touched the face of—
The face of—
The face of—

I land the plane upon the waters
Floating as a boat made one with wings
I walk to shore
Amazed but yet at rest that this is how things are here

Off comes the pilot’s mask
Off the flotation vest, regulation issue (“Ha! Who needs this here?”)
Off the jumper, scarf, and goggles
Off the leather jacket lined with lamb’s wool
With lamb’s wool
With lamb’s wool

And I stand where the ocean meets the land
Before me tall grasses bow in homage—strange, why?
A winged horse lifts its head from grazing
Greets me with a familiar call now holy
He turns his head toward the row of dunes above him
“That is the way?” I ask. But I need not ask
I know it is

The dunes receive me rank on rank in formation
As when full-dress footsoldiers receive a prince
Or vanguard yet unseen a coming king
The pegasus nonchalantly follows me
He is comfortable here, but I…
But I…
But I…

The whisp of a campfire reaches me
Someone’s burning juniper, I can tell
The same wood as my walking stick
Where did I leave that beauty with the brass eagle head?
I cannot remember—But oh
The smell of fresh baked bread!

Rising, falling, I move upon the dunes
The aroma grows stronger
The smell piercing in its goodness
The unseen food already resting in flavors upon my untamed tongue
Untrained in recognizing such savory fare
Unlearned, unaccustomed to receiving
How shall I eat it?

Here is the final dune
Beyond it are tent and fire
I know
Their presence is so solid beyond the sand
My fingers feel the folds of olive drab canvas as if holding them
My legs the warmth of firestones as if surrounded by them

There is no other way

I pause. I ascend. I stand upon the crest
He is cooking loaves and fish on coals at rest
He lifts his head
He looks at me

Beside him is my lantern, my backpack, my favorite knife
How did these get here?
I thought I lost them in the flood
When limestone came tumbling down on my plywood plans
And the manual fell from my hands along with map and compass
And I was left to wander in the wilderness alone

“Fred, come have breakfast with me.”

I come.
I kneel.
He stretches out his arm to greet me.
“What happened to your hand?” I ask.
“You did,” he replies.

“But come,” he continues. “Let us go to our Father’s house.”
I take his hand
My hunger is sated
And my thirst
We pass oak and holly, ajuga and plum
Row upon row of spire-ing pines and hedges twelve hands high
Ah, I recognize you: you are the landscape I carefully crafted year after year!
Behold a better dwelling place is here!

And together we go to the first Covered Bridge
Where You await me, heavenly Father

Where everything up to this very moment
(even you, Marlene my love),
Were escorts to our rendezvous

© Kurt Mähler
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  • Mark Holden says:

    Kurt, I am sorry to hear about the passing of your Father.

    – Mark Holden

  • Ava Good says:

    I loved your Dad and am sad to hear of his passing. Your ode is beautiful. A wonderful tribute to your father. I pray for God’s blessing and comfort for you and your family.

  • Glenda Alford says:

    Your Ode to your Dad is beautiful. He was a wonderful man and loved you dearly as you do him.

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