Paul Elbert Carson M.D., 60: The grandfather who died before I was born

Claire Dwyer PO ’20

I worry that no one will write your history.
And I’m your only grandchild, so it’s my responsibility, right? I’m your legacy.
Whoever you were, it lives in me, especially
Because when I was born, my mother looked at her child
Saw my dimples, saw her father
And cried at all that beauty.

You live on in my memory, a flawed spirit, a big belly and
A hearty laugh, sausage fingers—or at least that’s how I imagine them to be.
Fingers on hands on arms which would have wrapped me in love.
A big smile, and
Coffee stained teeth, a cigarette between your fingers
That you should’ve put down more frequently.
If I’d been there, I would have never offered you that first light, and
Instead, I’d have flushed your Marlboros down the toilet, and pumped it back to life when
It overflowed.

As a doctor, you should’ve known better,
After saving all those lives from your discovery of Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency
A word which doesn’t belong in poetry
Unless it is coming from me. But sometimes those who are the greatest heroes to others
Are the very first people to lose themselves.
Thinking of your death is like agony to me.

Would you have been proud of me, and what I want to be?
Would you have looked at me over your glasses and your morning paper, as I furiously typed away at my first book, and smiled contentedly?
You were a doctor, but also an academic like me,
The pursuit of knowledge was your goal, you followed it incessantly and in some ways,
You loved your work more than the world.

I wish I had you here, because it is hard to find other people so in love
With ideas, thought, and the life of the mind
That they simply cannot contain themselves out of joy, that they
Hold books close to their chests and refuse to let go.
I lionized you as a child when it seemed like the world was against me
And I felt different—you were someone I wanted to be.

You were a biochemist and a doctor, and I am a medievalist.
I know I did not exactly
Follow in your footsteps, but your passionately intellectual mind
Now lives in me. And also, I think, your smile, your dimples, your eyes.
You are my family history, and you are a part of me.

Would you be proud of me and my kindness, my diligence, my personhood?
Would you have watched my college graduation, been a ready presence on the other side of the phone when I needed someone talk to about my dissertation?
How long would I have had you in my life, and would you have loved me?

I’m trying to write you another obituary, because
The Chicago Tribune didn’t know you like I do
And didn’t know about me,
And how I have your dimples,
And how I am your legacy
And how a part of you lives in me.