“River of Babylon”, posted for OneShotPoetry

My father died 21 years ago, and I have many regrets about things I didn’t do…didn’t have the strength, courage or will to do then. I was his only daughter, his oldest child.  Of course, I couldn’t have changed his fate, I couldn’t have made any real difference, but these things  we think we ‘could have done’ continue to haunt for a long time. Perhaps poetry is a way we can make peace with the impossible.

Lady Nyo


River of Babylon

Do you remember

That visit a few scant

Months before you were gone,

When I saw the pain

Saw the end coming

But would not believe?

I wrapped you in a hospital sheet,

Hiding your face like a thief

And we wheeled down the hall,

Avoiding the eyes of nurses,

Down the elevator, down to the street.

We were laughing, elated

Making our great escape

Right under their noses.

In the mellow spring sunshine,

The scent of daffodils

Blossomed beside us,

Up and down Witherspoon,

Enjoying this tender season,

Our escape made richer

By the danger of it all.

But you had different plans,

Intentions that blossomed as you

Lay there, waiting for

The right moment,

The right weather,

The right dupe.

I was driving your Audi,

That paint-faded car with

Butter-soft seats,

And somehow you knew where it was

And though your left hand was a claw

 Held tight to your thin chest,

You casually, so casually gestured

With your right to ‘go there, turn down

This street.’

I remember how you threw

Your white shrouded arm in that direction,

And I pushed behind you,

Not knowing your intention until

Too late.

You grabbed the door handle

And I begged you to let go,

But you were fierce,

Your determination to go,

And not just for a ride.

I broke your hold,

And I broke your heart,

Just a little to me-

A mortal blow to you.

How I wish I had lifted you

into that car,

How I wish we had run away.

We could have hid on the river bank

We could have been right under their noses,

Doctors and nurses and all the authority

They took from your now-fragile life.

I could have climbed the bank to the house,

Stolen your French horn

You could have played  Mahler,

Softly, softly Father,

We don’t want them to find us-

And we could have fished for sunfish,

Listen to carp jump in the water,

We could have slept in the hollow

Of a fallen log,

Ate blackberries until our mouths, hands

Were stained purple.

We could have thumbed our noses

At the rules,

Even for a little time.

But I was afraid,

Too much the coward,

Afraid of the anger, the fury

And now I wished I had done all this,

And more,

And damn all of them! All of Them!

We could have headed West,

Unknown alien territory,

Or we could have floated down the Millstone

The river you loved so much,

Taught me to love.

We could have floated out

To the River of Babylon

And let it carry us away.

 Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2011

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33 Responses to ““River of Babylon”, posted for OneShotPoetry”

  1. Margie Says:

    Jane, though the circumstances were different, this poem reminds me so much of what I was feeling watching my own father perish. Such a helpless feeling – watching what cannot be changed – and wishing for the courage to make a grand gesture – to make it all okay.

    Sometimes I think we’ve lived parallel lives and thank you for being able to put these feelings into words.

    Love you.


  2. ladynyo Says:


    Your words mean more to me than I can say. Knowing that someone else has had the same desperate feelings, the same helplessness….makes it a bit easier: we aren’t islands, or freaks afterall….we are swimming in the sea of humanity, where all of these things are normal.

    Love you, back, Margie.



  3. Pat Hatt Says:

    Wow such a story in and of itself. You we all think things we could have done, but sadly we can only do what was done. As time finds us all in the end and we all have these feelings at one point or another too…great how you put it into words.


  4. ladynyo Says:

    Thanks, Pat.

    This came right before I fell asleep last week….after 21 years it bubbled up and wouldn’t let go. I really wondered if it was too personal, or too…something…to post here, but what the hell….regrets are over a lifetime.

    Thank you, Pat, for reading and your understanding comment. Yes, time finds us all…

    Lady Nyo


  5. G-Man Says:

    Good For You Lady Nyo….


  6. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, G-Man.

    This actually happened…at least to the point of the car door. I should have kept going, though of course sanity and society said no. My father was a noted French horn player. Mahler, Mozart and Strauss his speciality. I miss his beautiful tone, but I have this memory locked tight in my heart.

    Thank you, G-Man.

    Lady Nyo


  7. Laura Hegfield Says:

    Jane this is so full of love and compassion…I hope you can turn some of that love and compassion toward yourself. You did what you felt was right at that time…and that is all any of us can do. So often we are helpless to do more for our beloveds than simply be present…ultimately, perhaps that really is/was enough.

    gentle steps,


  8. brian Says:

    missed opportunities…in the moment we dont think it could be the last, if only we knew we might do otherwise but dont let those be the ones that haunt but think of his french horn when he did play…


  9. hedgewitch Says:

    What a compelling piece of writing, there’s never a moment to even draw breath in this, and the mood is fluid and nuanced from stanza to stanza. Fine writing of a difficult experience, the kind that plays over and over in the soul.

    I also love your phrase in the introduction, “Perhaps poetry is a way we can make peace with the impossible.” I know I find it so, or as much peace as can be made, anyway.


  10. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Joy!

    You got it….’making peace with the impossible.’ Little enough, neh?

    I reread it a bit ago, and thought it needed some ‘smoothing out’…that reading it aloud makes for a stumbling, but perhaps that is because I don’t read well outloud.

    This was something that was lurking down deep in the dark of 21 years…..a missed opportunity but then again, what could I have done here? It’s true up to the car, but then it’s a bunch of ‘could have beens’…but I remember thinking all of this as a way to defeat all the horridness of the doctors, the nurses, the hospital and …family.

    Thank you, Joy…for reading, your understanding and your compassion.



  11. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Brian…

    that is all I have left of him….this memory, not even the French horn. But it’s powerful enough.

    Thank you, Brian…for reading and your own message here.

    Lady Nyo


  12. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Laura….for some reason, your comment drove me to tears..but I think that is because of your own writing which is so marvelously endowed with love and compassion and wisdom.

    Turning love and compassion towards ourselves is the hardest task yet. But thank you, Laura, for your insightful comment.



  13. katiewritesagain Says:

    Regrets taint so many of our memories. You have learned fform them, I know, and that is the big thing. That is The Lesson.
    The pain and joy in this poem are
    so exquisite I can laugh and cry at the same time-for you. Love you, Dear Jane.


  14. ayala Says:

    This breaks my heart, I feel your loss. I understand your regret. My father passed suddenly but my mother suffered and then died. There are things I questions, there are some regrets. This made me sad for you and for me,sorry.


  15. ladynyo Says:

    Ayala, we share something very close. I am so sorry for your own loss…double loss.

    I send my love and compassion to you, Ayala.



  16. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Katie…for so many things…and this, too.

    I, along with you…have learned too many things sometimes to hold with sanity.

    Love you,



  17. wolfsrosebud Says:

    Filled with compassion, love, and sweet memories. What a joy you must have been to him. What an encouragement to others who are struggling with their elderly parents. Bravo…


  18. brenda w Says:

    This is a beautiful expression of regret. I think we get to live a little of that “wish we would have” when we create images with words. It gives it a taste of the real. After my friend Dave died, I wrote a poem about a party in an Italian vineyard that he wandered through. It brought him home.

    Thank you for the honesty of your write.


  19. Helena White Says:

    Your words have taken my breath away…I believe we all suffer from the “what if’s”
    I also know of the pain which you speak of…Hold tight to the Love…


  20. Elizabeth Young Says:

    What a heartfelt piece of prose that tells a story from beginning to end. Oh the cry of a daughter to her father, surely he must know how you wished to take him further away still? I feel your agony and am humbled by it, at your love. A courageous poem…


  21. ladynyo Says:

    Thank you, Elizabeth.

    You hit it exactly: I only hope he knew how much I loved him….there were so many other people in the way. When someone suffers a stroke and then the heartattack that killed him, there is so little time. He was only 74 and should have lived into his 90’s like the rest of his brothers and sisters. But he didn’t. I wish I had been there for him more, but living in Atlanta, with an adoption pending, and he in NJ, it was hard. He was gone before I knew it.

    Thank you, Elizabeth. I am moved that you and so many others have either had the same situation or felt the same.

    Lady Nyo


  22. ladynyo Says:

    Then, Helena, you know of that pain, and for you I am deeply sorry. It is something that lasts for a long time.

    Thank you, Helena, for reading, and your compassionate comment.

    Lady Nyo


  23. ladynyo Says:

    Brenda….you are exactly right: poems are such powerful vehicles of love and regret. We get to either relive, rewrite or do something with our lives different than what has happened.

    I would have loved to read your poem about your friend Dave.

    Thank you, Brenda, for reading and for your insightful comment.



  24. ladynyo Says:

    Hello Wolfsrosebud!

    I wish I had been a joy to him; there were such issues with my mother, over and over, and she was a very jealous woman. Still is at 91, but there are obviously other mental issues there. To all who struggle with their elderly parents, well, I wish I could do it again with my father. Now I know I would buck up my courage and do things perhaps differently.

    I do hope he knew how much I loved him.

    Thank you, Wolfsrosebud, for reading and for your lovely comment.



  25. Claudia Says:

    tears..just tears…


  26. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Claudia…

    well, I saw my once a month therapist today, and we both cried through the reading. It’s an emotional poem. But what has impressed me is the response. So many others have had the same feelings, regrets, the same issues, and that takes so much of the feelings of isolation away.

    Thank you, Claudia, and all else who shared their own pain.



  27. JL Dodge Says:

    beyond amazing write Jane !


  28. Kavita Says:

    Honestly Lady Nyo, this one made me cry!
    Watching a loved one slowly fade into nothingness must be really horrid!
    Gosh.. how I wish one never gets to experience it…

    Life IS… and should be just LIVED… with happiness
    But then again, it’s just another wish of mine… *sigh*

    A beautiful (and needless to say, moving too) poem, my dear friend..


  29. ladynyo Says:

    Hello, Kavita,

    I am overwhelmed by the response to this poem….not the amount of readers, but the passion they show as to how it relates to their own lives…and that is part of the power of poetry, I believe.

    Life, death, it’s not always a straight line …and death can be so overlaid with so many other issues…the grief, the anger, etc. of others. Sometimes, at least with the death of my father, I wonder who has died? Grief crowds the stage, and it sometimes is a nasty place for the regrets, the selfishness, the issues that have never been addressed. Especially when there was a shit-load of issues before the death of a parent.

    I have been encouraged by someone very important to me….a few people actually….to continue to write and publish “Memories of a Rotten Childhood”. It started out as a lark 4 years ago, but became a serious endeavor when I saw the potential. It’s a study of childhood, some very funny things, and also some tragic things, that happen in childhood. I’ll post some chapters soon this summer on the blog.

    Thank you, Kavita, for reading and your very heart-felt comment.


    Lady Nyo


  30. Liras Says:

    But Lady N, you are floating together, on that river, in your heart. Stick your fingers into your chest and feel it flow.

    I offer you my condolences and my strength, to help you bear your loss.


  31. ladynyo Says:

    Yep, Liras…my father and I are together…even though this happened so long ago…the pain is like it happened a week ago.

    Thank you, Liras, for reading and for your comments. So good to hear from you!

    Lady Nyo


  32. expatinCAT Says:

    A very moving piece – exceptionally honest and raw. Spòken from the heart. // Peter.


  33. ladynyo Says:

    Hi Peter!

    Thank you so much….thank you for reading and your comment.

    Lady Nyo


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