Print Friendly and PDF With Strings Attached: Briefcases

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


This was the poem in The Writer's Almanac on April 2.

by Stephen Dunn
Fifteen years ago I found my father's
in the family attic, so used
the shoemaker had to
repair it, and I kept it like love

until it couldn't be kept anymore.
Then my father-in-law died
and I got his, almost
identical, just the wrong initials

embossed in gold. It's forty years old,
falling apart, soon
there'll be nothing
that smells of father-love and that difficulty

of living with fathers, but I'd prefer
a paper bag to those
new briefcases
made for men living fast-forward

or those attaché cases that match
your raincoat and spring open
like a salute
and a click of heels. I'm going

to put an ad in the paper, "Wanted:
Old briefcase, accordion style,"
and I won't care
whose father it belonged to

if it's brown and the divider keeps
things on their proper side.
Like an adoption
it's sure to feel natural before long—

a son without a father, but with this
one briefcase carrying
a replica
comfortably into the future,

something for an empty hand, sentimental
the way keeping is
sentimental, for keep-
sake, with clarity and without tears. 
# # # #
Here's what I wrote to Mr. Dunn:   
Dear Mr. Dunn: 
Your poem “Briefcases” was the poem-of-the-day on the Writer’s Almanac yesterday.
My response was immediate – my dad had just that kind of briefcase, with his initials stamped in gold. It smelled like leather, ink, tobacco, and paper. (Actually he had several of them, because the handles did, eventually, break off to the point of no repair.) I can imagine him coming in the door (5:15 from Union Station, home at 6:00) and giving my sister and me the Chicago Daily News (“red stripe edition final markets”) so we could read the comics. Mother got home from her office sooner, so she had a drink poured and dinner almost ready. Ah, the 60’s….. Our parents passed away in 2002 and I believe my sister has Dad’s last briefcase, kept for the very reasons you describe.  
# # # #
He wrote back: 
Thanks for the wonderful response. My Dad died at 59 in the late 1960's. An old poem, therefore, which Keillor found and evidently liked.
* "Briefcases" by Stephen Dunn, from New and Selected Poems 1974-1994. © Norton, 1994. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

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