"When There's Just One of You Left"

"When There's Just One of You Left"

she says, "I'll call every day," a daughter
you wouldn't want to do without. Lately,

I'm worried by all sorts of questions, but
she says, "One at a time, daddio, breathe

in, breathe out," which I do so there's no
need for the little brown sack to breathe

into, CO2 to the rescue. My father would
rush me to the shower, steam up the whole

house till my lungs relaxed and the house
could return to its normal tensions. He who

had saved me lay dying in a modern spital
whose doctors refused him more morphine.

Along came the daughter you wouldn't want
to do without, by then a doctor herself: "At 93

gentlemen, my grandpa's not likely to become
addicted, now is he?" I'd wanted to slap them silly,

might have if she hadn't just entered, a serious look
in her eyes. For the most part she does everything

in silence, before she sets to work to right another
wrong. It is now very late, and it's better to cut this

short. If you come this way, you'd do well to let her
have a look at you. Meanwhile, the best of health!

Stuart Friebert
On the Bottom

"When There's Just One of You Left"
Stuart Friebert


what it means

An aging father is talking to his daughter about his worries.  She comforts him.  He then remembers how his father took care of him when he had an asthma attack and how his daughter took care of his father when he was in the hospital.  He suggests that the reader let her take care of them as well.

A father is proud of his daughter.

It's ok to let yourself be dependent on and trust your children.

Your children will be there for you.

Your children have skills you do not.

why I like it

This poem ripples like bamboo in the wind.  The speaker is old and almost dependent on his daughter, then he's a child dependent on his father, then he's middle-aged and so proud and grateful to the daughter who can help with his dying father.

I love how this poem tells such a complete and complex story.  I love the cheerful voice of the poem.  And to be fair, dear reader, I love this poem because my friend and mentor Stuart wrote it and I can just hear him twinkling away all through it.


I appreciate how the couplets match the father/daughter relationship and also hold a steady beat as this poems slips around time.

Ooowee, this poem is a lesson in line breaks.  Look at this one: 

you wouldn't want to do without. Lately,

So, of course, these are parts of two different sentences, but given a meaning as a line they imply that there were times the speaker could do without the daughter, but things have changed. 

Or this one:

in her eyes. For the most part she does everything

I'm getting this incredible image of a very internal daughter who does everything with her eyes.  I love how the line breaks push against some of the meanings of the sentences.