MY FATHER WAS AN ANGRY MAN, that much I remember well. I was put into day care when I was less than one year old, as was my younger brother when his turn came, so that my father, who stayed home to write I suppose, would not have to be bothered taking care of us all day long. I can't imagine what it would have been like to be with him all day, because he had a fuse that was as short as a match, and if I fussed at all when he picked me up after the day care, or once we got home, he would paralyze me with a shouting that I still hear in my dreams. He always made it a point to make his voice louder than mine when I cried or complained and he would throw me in my room for long periods of time for even the slightest infraction of his indeterminable rules.

    For a man who was as free as he was, of employment, of responsibilities, he certainly preferred to have his children as tightened up with responsibilities as any three year old could handle. And my mother, as grimaced as she might become when my father blew his stack at us in her presence, if I recall correctly, did very little to extricate him from his freedom. And that freedom must have become something that he disliked immensely because, before he killed himself, when I was seven, his anger was all I remember feeling in our house.

    Physically, my recollections of him have been set in stone as a result of the many hours I have spent looking at the various, but not innumerable, photographs we had of him. He had a large, fleshy nose that I remember going after with my little fingers occasionally. Sometimes he would allow it, but just as often he would wag his pointy peanut head and say, "No." He was not slim (his thin, pointy head sat strangely upon his wide torso), but he was fairly fit and strong in the upper body. He could easily carry me and my brother up the stairs in his arms. I remember that he had one pair of blue jeans that were dusty and greasy and I watched them as they frayed and decayed when he wore them for weeks on end without washing them. I remember the rows my parents would have when my mother told him that he needed to shower, and I have a clear memory of the tangy smell of his unwashed body, although it has been many years since I smelled it. Sometimes he would stick his head under a faucet, but I don't remember him ever taking a shower, certainly not at my mother's request or demand.

    Oddly, he used to like to bathe my brother and me. He would sing songs as he watched us splash and play. He would take a melody that we liked, Old MacDonald, or Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and he would change the words into a nonsensical rant usually about weasels or bananas or chickens. He encouraged my brother and I tried to keep up with him but he would frown when we reduced our songs to repetitions of "poop" and "pee." He would say, "You don't need to say that to be interesting."

    I suppose I loved him, but I remember the anger so clearly that, even when he was kind, there was the threat of his kindness turning to fierce disapproval, which always kept me on my guard with him. I suppose I knew that there was something wrong with him toward the end, but only because I remember he and my mother arguing and never being comfortable with each other around. I had no comparison really to other kid's fathers. He was as nice and solicitous as any of the other fathers at my day care, but not exceptionally so. He never yelled at anybody the way that he yelled at Yorick and me.

    My clearest memory of my father remains from about one week before he died. He was in his writing room, surrounded by papers, books, tissues, empty bottles and dirty dishes. I had been playing in the living room and I joined him. He took me on his lap. He let me finger the keyboard of the typewriter. I loved the feel of the keys, not resisting my touch, slapping the roller with a sharp snap, and bouncing back to its original position. He let me press the keys and we talked about the letters. I asked him why the letters were so mixed up on the keyboard. He said, "Because that is the way a person's mind is, all mixed up and fragmented. You have to work very hard to try to organize your thoughts and words, so people can understand." He told me that he had just finished his big project, a poem. He told me that was his work, his job. He seemed relieved and he told me that he was proud of himself for his slow and steady effort. He told me that he was like the tortoise of the Tortoise and the Hare.

    These days, I have no other clear recollections of him between that moment, sitting on his lap, and his death shortly thereafter. The thing I recall most clearly is that my mother seemed to die too when she discovered him. She died in the sense that, immediately upon discovering him early in the morning (he had driven a knife into his chest above his heart as he lay naked in the bath tub, presumably in the middle of the night), she seemed to have taken on his anger, and focused that anger like a laser beam onto her memory of him. She has never talked about him but in the most disgusted of terms for having abandoned us, and she just seemed to have no more emotion to share with anybody after he died.

    I heard her first guttural click of horror that morning. She slammed the bathroom door closed and swore profusely, "God damnit. God damnit." She, shook her hands out a bit and then went to the phone and called somebody. Yorick and I tried to get into the bathroom, but the door was locked. She then dressed us and took me to school and Yorick to day care, both of which were nearby. Normally my father would have done this and my mother would have gone to work, so I asked, "Where's Dad?" She said that he wasn't feeling well and not to ask any more questions.

    I knew it then. I knew I was never going to see him again. That day, when half of my created world disappeared, the obsession to recreate that world began. I froze to the outside world that morning and have never completely thawed. I went through that school day in a haze, wondering why I couldn't even see my father, why he was locked in the bathroom if he wasn't feeling well.

    My mother, whose phone call that morning was not for an ambulance but to her work saying that she would not be coming in that day, did her best to inform us when she picked us up early that afternoon. She told us that our grandparents, and uncles and aunts and cousins, were coming but that it was not a celebration. She told us that Father had died by cutting himself in the bathtub. I didn't understand how anybody could cut themselves in the bathtub. She said that we would not see him again.

    What a mystery began then! How could I not see my father again? Mother was visibly upset and she did cry, but more clearly I recall the determination in her manner to speak honestly with us, to show us that, more than sadness, she was angry that he had left us. She said he was dead, that he had cut himself, and that he had left us. It took me another two years to equate these circumstances with suicide. So many questions and nobody to ask them of. Yorick was forever wandering around the house saying, "Where's Daddy? Where's Daddy?" I remember trying to tell him, and even hitting him on a few occasions, and then, when Mother tried to convince me to leave my brother alone, I asked, "Where did Daddy go? Is he in heaven?"

    She told me that there was no heaven and no god, that my father had died and was gone, that it was no good trying to figure out where he had gone to, it was more important to find a way to get along without him. These were impossible statements to comprehend. What I did comprehend was that my father was not there on my 8th or 9th or 10th birthday. He no longer walked me to school. He no longer read stories to me, and that was something that we all enjoyed. He always made it a point to read to us. My grandfather Del Rio (my mother's father) told me how my father read Lewis Carrol and T. S. Eliot to me when I was in my mother's womb.

    My father was a poet and it took me a few years of living without him and getting to the point where a birthday might actually arrive without my specifically thinking of him, before I realized that the one way I might retrieve him was through words. It was around this time (I was 15), that I began to consciously detest my mother - for not saving my father, for what she had become after he killed himself - and to realize that his poem, The Profane Comedy, was the only way I would ever begin to understand for myself the kind of man that he was. My mother had little regard for his poetry and she could never get beyond the bile which came up any time I tried to talk to her about him or his work. She could offer me no insight into the man which was other than pure venom for having left us all so rudely.

    Mid-way through my college years I became more sensitive to my mother's responses (although I would have to say that I was still adolescent), and at that point I was thoroughly embarked upon this obsession of mine to know my father. I had decided to become an English major in order to study the works to which he referred in his poem. I was sure that I could understand the man if I could understand his work. And that was all I had. I was the unfinished work he left behind. I just wanted my father back, and I still do.

    But before I talk about the path which I took to begin interpreting this 100 page poem, I want to note briefly how I felt about the poem in those intervening years. Of course, I knew it was in the house after my father died, and I recall looking at it in his files once or twice, surreptitiously because I felt my mother would be upset if she knew I was going through his things. But, even as a curious 10 and 12 year old, the poem was a heiroglyph to me. I could not follow even the first page, and never had any idea what the rest of the poem contained. I would just turn the pages, looking at the three-lined stanzas, the occasional irregularities in those stanzas, the names of the individuals who populate the pages...

    I was in no way detached from the mystery of his intent; like Fing's sense of gravity and light in the poem, I was inside an incomprehensible universe, perpetually subject to forces that surrounded me, but which could not be touched. Intuitively, I felt like my father must be among the light and the gravity, because, holding the pages in my hands, I knew he was with me. I would not linger too long, but as I approached my 16th year, I began to feel the compulsion to know. As I cultivated my disdain for my mother, I became assured that my father wanted me to seek him out in his poem.

On the sly, in 1984, I photocopied the poem and began to read it in earnest in my bed at night. I never spoke with anyone about it, and I had no idea what the connections and references in it were about. I had no idea even what the title referred to. I did know that Abraham Lincoln was Fing's guide through Perdition, but I had to look up what Perdition was. And I must admit, although I felt quite grown up when I grasped a little sense in what the pages held, I got very little out of my first readings, except to conclude that I needed to study a great deal more.

    So when I got to college, I took courses on American history, because the poem was clearly a trip backward through American history, and on poetry, so that I could get a sense of how my father conceived and structured this poem in his head. During one of my vacations at home (Christmas 1987), I told my mother that I wanted to go through my father's papers. She was perhaps a bit suspicious, knowing how I had sided over the previous years with my absent father against her, but she sat with me and helped me put his notebooks in chronological order. This was certainly the beginning of my rapprochement with my mother.

    What I discovered startled me. My father had a score of notebooks filled with poetry from when he was 16 until his death, and his prose was most illuminating. My mother told me that she had little interest in his journals; she called them "his intellectual shit." My mother gave me responsibility for them, but I did not take them with me because I might never have studied again if I had them with me. The single most important revelation the notebooks afforded me was that my father considered himself, individually, as some pinnacle of the American Dream. Over and again in his journals, as a lonely 18 year old out in the careless collegiate world, his main concern seemed to be how he could possibly live up to the responsibility of being an American when he felt so badly about the way that America was headed. His thoughts were muddled and mine were too. He had issues with his own father, who was an immigrant's son, and grandfather, who had climbed the corporate ladder to achieve status in the upper-middle class world of Chicago in the 1950's. My father hated corporate America, but it is what gave him his opportunity. And, even though my father was a few years older than his peers, he had a great deal of support when it came to hatred of convention and normalcy in America in the 1960's.

    Still, these journals actually have nothing to do with the poem. Except for one diary which he kept during his last year, my father stopped keeping a journal about three years before he began The Profane Comedy. I knew I still had a great deal more study to undertake before I could comprehend the poem, but this was the time that I began to imagine that my father had actually produced a work of art that was comparable to any great literary work in 20th century America. The poem was vastly more advanced than the journals. I still did not understand it, but it's immensity overwhelmed me. Like a blind man touching and feeling an elephant, slowly I conceived of the enormity of my father's last project.

    It was at this point that I did something previously unimaginable to me - I showed the poem to two people. As far as I knew, nobody, other than myself and Yorick (not even my mother), had ever seen this poem; I had held it as closely as I had ever held any secret or shame. But, because of my discoveries, my rapprochement with my mother, my own development, and my close relations with my roommate, Alfred Craig, I showed Alfred The Profane Comedy. He was immediately won over to it. We would get stoned and read it out loud to each other, laughing hysterically at the vulgarity and strangeness. I had never understood my father's humorous intent until I shared the language. I began to feel such a tremendous love for the poem that it was difficult to ever get it out of my mind. And Freddy encouraged me in my efforts to get to the bottom of it.

    This encouragement, plus the opportunity to work during the summer (of 1988) in the English Department at my school, propelled me to show the poem to my most influential professor, Anthony Person. I was exceptionally nervous the day I showed it to him. Despite my affection for Prof. Person, he was less specifically affectionate toward me, maintaining professorial aloofness in all respects with his students, except in his love of literature. I stumbled in trying to tell him the particulars of my life (English professors in general always want you to state your thesis in the first paragraph, and I had trouble with that in this circumstance). We both tensed up when I mentioned my father's suicide.

    But when I presented the poem, he immediately responded by chuckling about the title. My impression about the title had always been that my father had written a profane and comedic poem, and that was why he titled it as such. But Prof. Person pointed out that the title was probably a reference to Dante's Divine Comedy, a poem that Prof. Person had studied extensively and would next semester be offering in a class. If there is a single hinge upon which I have swung in going from ignorance to knowledge about this poem, it was this meeting. I immediately signed up for Prof. Person's Dante class.

    I became a student of epic poetry, and over the next several years, from undergraduate through graduate school, I studied Homer, Ovid, Dante, Spenser, Milton, Coleridge, Eliot, and Ginsburg. All the time I kept going back to my father's poem, I kept studying his notebooks. Prof. Person had also clued me in to going through my father's library, which was not too large, in order to get a sense of what he was reading while he was writing his poem.

    Needless to say, there are more authors than those stated above who are integrally connected with my father's thinking as presented in the poem, among them, Francis Bacon, Laurence Sterne, James Agee, and Michel Foucault. And in presenting the poem as I have, there is more of my personal history which is unnecessary to dwell on in this preface. These introductory remarks will have to suffice, for it is the poem which reveals all. I cannot say that I have reached the end of my obsession with it, for I have not recovered my father, but I can say that I believe that my father's work is equal to any of the authors above stated, and I think he felt the same way.

    In summary then, I trust that these notes will allow others the opportunity to journey through my father's mind and poetry in a more direct manner than I was given, and that others may enjoy the poem as greatly as I have. Not necessarily secondary to these hopes, I am looking for support in the completion of this annotation project, as what is represented at this website is a fraction of the rest of The Profane Comedy. I have no doubt that this poem is publishable, as is, but the notes will require more. . . Please feel free to respond to this work, professionally or otherwise, at, and go here to read the poem.