Dad was Born on Derby Day

As a child, I loved looking at pictures of my mom and dad’s wedding. I was their seven-day-old guest at the Tennessee-backyard affair, wearing a white frilly dress and bloomers. My Mom, Jennifer, was beautiful with her porcelain skin and brown eyes. A flower crown graced the top of her well-coiffed, high-volume brunette mane and she wore a tiny white dress with lavender polka dots, her body rejecting any glimpses of pregnancy or birth.

Dad, who went by David, was baby-faced and handsome with his tan suit and matching lavender bow tie and cummerbund. His smile was wide and bright as he stood next to Mom with her tight-lipped, anxious smirk.

Though my dad went missing-in-action for most of the pregnancy, he was at the hospital when I arrived, dropping in and out to hold me or take a picture. I was born on Derby Day 1985 and Spend A Buck won the race, running at a suicidal pace and setting what was then the fastest mile in the sport’s history.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of reading my poem, “Dad was Born on Derby Day” at the Kentucky Derby Museum’s annual Poetry Derby event (virtually). I’m sharing it here today and look forward to its publication in the museum’s chapbook.

Dad was Born on Derby Day

Spend-A-Buck set a suicidal pace

On the day Dad became my father

Setting the fastest mile

Without ache or bother

Did I mention the dust?

Rock-and-roll roadie, running farther

Riding highs of youth and self-destruction

Galloping in and out, starting on Derby Day

Too smart for gumption

Did I mention the dust?

Noble Bull: The best soldier to be found

Left no man behind

When boots hit the ground

Decorated war hero trying to survive

Lost in the cinders

Roses and medals flanked your coat

You wore honor for your country

In your marred brain

Soot covering grey matter

Hiding your pain

Valor and Victory

Never stops

You taught me to be proud

Coca-Cola, bourbon, anger blazing hot

For all of us

It ends the same

A cloud of dust from ashes remain

For you

Infamy overshadows fame

I remember your glory

Your guts

At your Kentucky grave

Memories are the dust I must save

The day I became alive because you couldn’t stay

My Dad was born on Derby Day