The Take

The Take: Cecil Morris

When My Father Voice Failed Us All

I sat the night shift with my daughter
in the hospital as she made the journey
from her body to her new home.
Thirty-nine years too brief a tenancy.
I listened to her breath come and go,
an old woman sweeping a stone floor,
an insistent whisper and I whispered, too,
like, I hope, a friendly, gentle wave
across warm sand. I traded secrets
with her night after night in the dark room.
I read her the books she loved when she
still climbed on my lap and turned the pages
for me—even the one where the monster
at the end of the book is only Grover,
is only good night, lights out, sleep tight,
or death. When she said to me one night
about two weeks before her departure,
when she said I don’t want to die, I knew
she knew what her shaken doctor meant
when she said of the final MRI
this is not good. I told her then that night,
just us alone in her lights out room,
I told her she was not dying in my
firmest, all-caps father voice, in my softest,
there’s-no-monster-under-this-bed daddy
voice. I told her that again and again,
an incantatory mantra whispered
in voice of tiny waves that kissed her shore
and, I hoped, rippled through her morphine drip,
through her drowsing blue veins and reached her heart.
What lies we tell our children and ourselves
when our tongues are forced by darkest night.


This is such an incredibly powerful and moving poem. We are humbled at Mud Season to have Morris entrust us with his words on this most intimate piece recalling time in the hospital with his daughter as she was quite literally fighting for her life against breast cancer. I very much applaud his putting pen to paper in what is undoubtedly a beautiful homage to his daughter. 

–Jonah Meyer, Poetry Editor


I wrote “When My Father Voice Failed Us All” a week or two before the third anniversary of our daughter’s death from metastatic breast cancer and 39.  It is one of many poems in which I try to capture both the details of the experience of her treatment and her time in the hospital and my own inability to accomplish the most fundamental of parental jobs: protect one’s child.  I remember most vividly the sounds of nights in her hospital room and my own repeated assurances—perhaps mostly for myself—that she would recover or that she was not alone.  I think I will be writing and re-writing this poem for years to come.


By Cecil Morris

Cecil Morris retired after 37 years of teaching high school English, and now he tries writing himself what he spent so many years teaching others to understand and (he hopes) enjoy. He has poems in Cimarron Review, The Ekphrastic Review, English Journal, Evening Street Review, Poem, and other literary magazines.