To the memory of
Michael H. Francisco, זכרונו לברכה
1943 - 2021

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When my father died in August 2021, I sent the following message to friends and family to introduce the photographs above.

Dear friends,

Some of you know already that my father, Michael Francisco, died several days ago.  Since then I have received thoughts and reflections of compassion and insight, for which I feel deeply grateful.

Many of you know that the story my father and I share is profound and not easy.  The love that connected us sometimes also separated us.  It was intense and complicated, equally.

Jewish tradition enjoins us to remember the dead for a blessing, and this is the work of the living.  Exactly what that blessing is must be discovered, and made.  In some aspects, it may reflect what my friend Joel Silverman calls "unqualified gratitude."  In other aspects it may be a continuation of the mysterious vitality that two souls share, expressing itself across the fathoms of thought and feeling.  Such seems to be the case with my father and me.

Beginning in the weeks before he died, anticipating his death, I have been meditating on my father's life and my life with him. Some of this meditation has come with my camera, following my practice of  looking carefully into the outer world, and pointing my observations toward the inner world.  I may well write from these meditations later, but images are the first thing to come—a visual poem in 18 photographs, the number 18 corresponding to the Hebrew word חי, meaning "aliveness," "livingness," "life," or "existence itself."

I thank you all once again for your love and support.

Jason
 ______________________________________________
[On 12 September 2021, at a memorial service for my father, I delivered the following words:]

I have had a lot of years to prepare a eulogy for my father, and none of these years has adequately prepared me.  By “many years” I mean that my father was on the precipice of death many times, and the emotional complications of my relationship with him involved degrees and intensities of separation whose gravity sometimes felt deathlike.  I am not prepared to eulogize my father—I remain too close to his presence to speak of him as if in summary.  At the same time it is necessary to see my way to the next stages of my life with him.
As Jews, we are a people "of the book."  Today, by tradition, we find ourselves in the Days of Awe, the period between Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur, when we ask to be “inscribed” and then “sealed” for another year in the book of life.  We are people of the book:  it is not, tradition tells us, merely that the Torah is in the world—not merely that the ways of wisdom and compassion are available for us to learn—this is true, and it is also true that the world is in the Torah.  The Torah, in its fullest sense, contains—somehow—all the stories of all Jews in all times and places.
My father was a storyteller, and the stories of his life would fill many books.  Each of them is, properly, a book, and deserves a book.  We mourn that there is no writer capable of telling his stories in all their inner workings.  He himself was not that writer.  
There is no book for his boyhood, no book for the long afternoons with his favorite grandfather, Henry, in a San Francisco backyard I know only from tiny, blurred photographs, both of them in short pants and simple cotton shirts, beaming with love.  There is no book for the doting affection of his favorite grandmother, Miriam, famously long-suffering at the hands of Henry and incomparably sweet.  There is no book for his lifetime of bitter fights with his mother, or his mother’s bitter fights with her father, no book for the acid insults and humiliations traded between generations.  
There is no book of his youthful exploits, his teenage cigar smoking, his girl chasing, his cascade of small-time money making schemes while bored in high school.  There is no book for his untold hours working beside his father in the pharmacy, fielding customer needs not related to the compounding of medicine, learning to talk to people.  There is no book for the crisp double-breasted pharmacist’s smock he proudly wore in the put-away pictures of him and his father.  
There is no book for his feat of being admitted to Stanford, only to have to turn it down for lack of money.  There is no book for the focus and intellectual hustle he exerted during his years at UCLA, no book for the debauched parties of his Jewish fraternity house, no book for the sophomoric high jinks that grew to legendary proportions in his telling.  There is no book for his decision not to become a lawyer, but instead an accountant, and there is no book for the withering belittlement this decision drew out of his mother for years afterward.
There is no book for his rise in the world of corporate auditing, and no book for his professional ferocity.  There is no book for his achievement of becoming a senior partner at Price Waterhouse before the age of forty-five.  There is no book for his years of international travel, and no book for his security clearances.  There is no book for his fleet of Mercedes Benz cars and his sumptuous purchases, and no book for the succession of mansions he lived in with my mother.  There is no book for the sparkle in his voice that would emerge when he was on the phone with clients—when he lost track of himself in the middle of a negotiation.
There is no book for his fall from the heights of multinational corporate auditing, no book for the political squeeze his enemies within the firm put on him, forcing him to take a payout and resign.  There is no book for how he lost virtually all of that payout through bad stock investments, and no book for the bankruptcy that followed from his bum effort to start a small business.  There is no book for the economic crash and the emotional devastation that ensued, and no book for the resolve with which he eventually began to build a new livelihood as a Silicon Valley middleman.  There is no book for the sixteen and eighteen hour days that consumed the decades of his fifties and sixties, and no book for the complex schemes by which he appeared to have wealth again.  
There is no book for the soul-link that joined my father and me across my lifetime.  There is no book for the protective and the predatory as these fused to form his approach to fatherhood, no book for the shock that sometimes passed over him—when he saw the knife glint, the figurative blade he held at my throat more or less continuously.  There is no book for the ancient story of the Akedah, the binding of Isaac, as it rang through my life with him.  There is no book for our conflicts and partial reconciliations over decades, as I learned to break the cycle of intergenerational trauma.  There is no book for the helplessness he felt at the ways I saw into him.
There is no book for my father’s heart.  There is no book for the prodigious, fascinating, admittedly sometimes maddening mixture of physical and psychic strength and also vulnerability as these combined in him.  There is no book for his willfulness, his pride, his stubbornness, his drivenness, his loyalty, all of this as it lay atop a very tender heart that bruised easily.  There is no book for his inner workings, the ways he hid and protected his heart, secreted it, guarded it, kept it locked inside himself as if it were a holy of holies.  There is no book for the ways he starved his own heart, deprived it, punished it—unwittingly and in ignorance of himself.  There is no book for what can fairly be called his terror at the prospect of his own heart, no book for the ways his tenderness of heart was bigger than he could handle.  There is no book for the decisions his own heart’s unmanageability led him to—decisions he otherwise would have known better than to follow.  There is no book for the ways that he used money—when he had money—to express what his heart held, no book for his fiscal generosity especially to his children in providing them the best education he could afford.  There is no book for the generosity he extended over and over to his nieces and their struggles with mental heath, supporting them by bringing them to live in his house for long periods of time.  There is no book for the heart he had for his grandchildren, who had the benefit of the purest and most uncomplicated expression of the paternal joy he was capable of, especially in their younger years, before the era of his medical agonies.
There is no book for the cancer that almost killed and did not purge him, no book for the second financial collapse that was underway when the cancer struck—the collapse that the cancer precipitated as his business partners exploited his illness.  There is no book for his chronically bad judgment in business partners.  There is no book for the loss of control my father felt during his passes with death, and in the long periods of recovery that depleted his patience.  There is no book for the suffering that accompanied the chronic nerve damage he endured, or his infection with e-coli, or his heart attack, or the failure of his kidneys and his slide into full-time dialysis.  There is no book for the penury and then indigence and then sheer financial destitution he fell into, stage by stage.  There is no book for the demise of his imagination for new schemes and new hopes.
There is no book for the blur of the last years of his life, mostly spent between his own four walls.   There is no book for the daily brimstone he hurled from his chair against the Democratic Party, the liberal bias of the New York Times, and whichever members of his beloved San Francisco Giants were playing lousy baseball.  There is no book for his proclamations on the irrelevance of art and the beauty of jazz.  There is no book for his sincere admiration of the majesty of the natural world and his certainty that such majesty could not have been created by accident.  There is no book for his assertions of God’s indifference to that creation, no book for his inability to reconcile God’s existence with the seemingly indomitable suffering of the world.  There is no book for the ways he wrestled with God—fully embodying the ancient name of our people as the Torah gives it to us, “Israel,” literally “the one who struggles with God and prevails,” or in short, “Godwrestler.”  There is no book for the existential questions that being a Jew did not lighten in him, and in fact only magnified.
There is no book for the harshness of my father’s inner moral universe.  There is no book for the profound depression of his later years, grinding and unrelenting.   There is no book for the shame he carried, or the rage, or the self-condemnation, or his emotional isolation.  There is no book for the sentimental heights he meant by love, and no book for the contrariety he also meant by love.  There is no book for his steadfastness to the people with whom he had the most inalienable connections, and no book for the cruelty he sometimes visited on those very people.  There is no book for the ways he loved his parents in life and in memory and argued with them profoundly, no book for the ways he loved his wife and children and argued with them profoundly, no book for the way he argued profoundly with the forces of judgement and compassion within himself.  There is no book for the human cost of my father being himself.
There is no book for the terrible fall he endured in the spring of this year, which simultaneously hyperextended and compacted his spine, and landed him in emergency surgery, and then in the rehabilitation clinics from which he never returned home.  There is no book for the mental states he entered in his last months, an increasingly volatile mixture of lucidity and delusion, from which he began to utter refusals to have dialysis.  There is no book for what he meant in turning himself toward death by renal failure.  There is no book for the way he lived for a month from the time of his last dialysis (when most people endure only half that time), and no book for the way he lived his last week without food or water.  There is no book for the astonishing strength of his constitution as it rode beneath the morphine and the loss of his conscious self.
Jewish tradition expresses the ardent wish that the memory of the dead should be a blessing for the living.  It seems to me that this blessing does not happen by itself.  Rather it is work:  it must be discovered, and made.  In some aspects, it may reflect what my friend Joel Silverman calls "unqualified gratitude,” and in these cases, making a blessing of memory comes comparatively easily.  But we do not need to feel uncomplicated love in order to make memory a blessing.  Complicated love has its own needs and its own patterns of grief.  Making a blessing of complicated love may mean learning to practice types of wisdom and compassion that stand in contrast to the person we remember.  It may also mean cultivating new degrees of sensitivity to the mysterious vitality that our souls share with those we remember, expressing itself across the fathoms of conscious thought and feeling, and sometimes against the habits of our storytelling.
It seems to me that when we discover our mourning is on the side of our own maturation—is a force for it—memory is for a blessing.  When we discover that our sadness is helping us climb the rungs of the generations, honoring what we inherit and inspiring us to refine it, memory is for a blessing.  When we credit a person for the specific life-wisdom that he actually practiced—and each of us is certainly endowed with life-wisdom specific to ourselves—we replant that wisdom, and make memory a blessing.  When we desist from reducing the past to those things we only happened to encounter, and desist also from presuming we have known others on their own terms, and desist also from reducing others to their worst deeds, we make memory a blessing.  When we recognize what of a person’s way in the world we should emulate and what we should never emulate, we make memory a blessing.  Memory’s blessing is most real when it strikes us as unfinished, urgent, and still actionable.  
The poet Li-Young Lee writes:

When the wind
turns and asks, in my father’s voice,
Have you prayed?
I know three things.  One:
I’m never finished answering to the dead.
Two:  A man is four winds and three fires.
And the four winds are his father’s voice,
his mother’s voice . . .
Or maybe he’s seven winds and ten fires.
And the fires are seeing, hearing, touching,
dreaming, thinking . . .
Or is he the breath of God?
When the wind turns traveler
and asks, in my father’s voice, Have you prayed?
I remember three things.
One: A father’s love
is milk and sugar,
two-thirds worry, two-thirds grief, and what’s left over
is trimmed and leavened to make the bread
the dead and the living share.
And patience? That’s to endure
the terrible leavening and kneading.
And wisdom? That’s my father’s face in sleep.
When the wind
asks, Have you prayed?
I know it’s only me
reminding myself
a flower is one station between
earth’s wish and earth’s rapture, and blood
was fire, salt, and breath long before
it quickened any wand or branch, any limb
that woke speaking. It’s just me
in the gowns of the wind,
or my father through me, asking,
Have you found your refuge yet?
asking, Are you happy?
Strange. A troubled father. A happy son.
The wind with a voice. And me talking to no one.

This poem has been with me for many years, and again in the weeks since my father’s death.  In 2015, it was the point of departure for a poetic encounter with my father, in which I incorporated Lee’s poem directly into my own.  Today, remembering my father, I have no better words for the churn of my own thoughts and feelings than the poem I wrote then.  But whereas I wrote these words originally for the sake of a reckoning, today I pronounce them with chesed, in tender compassion, for the sake of a blessing in memory.
Lee asks:
When the wind
turns and asks, in my father's voice,

Have you prayed?
I answer with a photograph:
 And this should be enough.  
But it is not enough.  I go on answering:
And if he doesn't pray, can't pray?
I wonder:  can one man begin another man’s prayer
If he can't begin it himself?
And is that a son's duty to his father if his father can't pray,
Even a first duty, linked also to the last and lasting duty––
Kaddish when he's dead, kaddish and renewal,
The blessing of his memory as one blesses new life?
I know three things. One:
I'm never finished answering to the dead.
In my sights, the scholars are at their table:
"To answer the dead is one thing," one says,
"And to answer to the dead another."
Their table turns out to be my father's table,
And there he sits with them, and they are speaking of me,
I am the one dead to them all,
I the one whom they do not answer,
And I the one to whom they do not answer.
Two: A man is four winds and three fires.
And the four winds are his father's voice,
his mother's voice . . .
The study house of my father is eternal, it is true,
But whether an eternal somewhere or an eternal nowhere is not clear.
One thing I know:
It is only in the study house that true things can be questioned.
Is the voice within my father's voice a wind or a fire?
Is the voice within my own voice a fire or a wind?
And if wind burns like fire, and fire bends like wind,
How to distinguish us, one from the other?
Or maybe he's seven winds and ten fires.
And the fires are seeing, hearing, touching,
dreaming, thinking . . .
Or is he the breath of God?
My father's happiness is quarrelsome,
And his joy is foolish, it is true.
His life avoids the living God––
Fixed light to the moving world and moving light to the fixed world––
And he asks no one his own crushing and personal questions:
"What if my sweat and hurry are unworthy?
Who will clear for me a resting place?
And who will pave my way to it?"
When the wind turns traveler
and asks, in my father's voice, 
Have you prayed?
I remember three things.
One: A father's love
But it is me, I am the one pronouncing my father's remembrance,
And I ask:  what force binds those three words as one, "a father's love"?
The answer is mysterious:
As mysterious as the actual life in eyes made of paint,
Or the frozen tears on my mother's face in late August,
Or the sinking gravity within acts of love.
Why are the sparks of souls visible only at certain hours
And on certain days of uttering?
And why are our holiest days called days for remembering?
Why all of my life have I made the mistake
Of speaking to my father as if speaking to my poet,
And speaking to my poet as if he were my father,
When neither the poet nor the father seek my heart?
is milk and sugar,
two-thirds worry, two-thirds grief, and what's left over
That is indeed his diet:  milk and sugar, grief and worry,
A diet of gluttony and fasting, one following the other.
And he is somehow both obese and skeletal,
And sadness creeps across his confidence without his consent,
Sadness besetting him almost unintentionally,
And his sad eyes blink his hidden heart.
is trimmed and leavened to make the bread
the dead and the living share.
The scholars are arguing at my father’s table:
"You must treat the bread as a kneaded candle," says one,
"You must treat the candle as bread with a wick in it," says another.
Only on Fridays does my father light the bread thus made.
The scholars at his table go on arguing.
"Blessings without prayers are not blessings," says one.
"Prayers without blessings are not prayers," says another.
Only with bread in his hands does my father recite Hebrew.
And patience? That's to endure
the terrible leavening and kneading.
I would not be surprised to wake some midnight
And discover my father flying toward the moon,
Drawn to its light in his hour of aloneness,
Leaping into space from his set-back garden on a non-Jewish street,
There in his city of fences and cement,
Jumping from the last stone on a trail to a resting place.
And wisdom? That's my father's face in sleep.
The voice was hidden but the speech was distinct:
I found my father reciting the words of the scholars
Whose company he never kept:
"Write no poem that is not both crushing and personal," he advised me,
This was his wisdom
Though he knows no poems at all.
When the wind
asks, 
Have you prayed?
I know it's only me
But me, I’m no use:
I know no wise man to intercede for him
No friend to pray on his behalf,
No scholar to break into the entropy of God's coming and going,
And none to explain to him God's way of appearing in the book
While disappearing from the resting places,
Receiving good wishes in silence
While rousing ill-wishers to dominate a man's self-image.
reminding myself
a flower is one station between
earth's wish and earth's rapture, and blood
But you, my poet,
Where you remind yourself, I reprimand myself,
And where flowers mark the stations on your savior's path to blood,
The savior walks a desert path in me,
A wandering line between loss and loss.
was fire, salt, and breath long before
it quickened any wand or branch, any limb
that woke speaking. It's just me
You, my poet, your elements somehow make new earth,
While I have only pictures, good for conjuring the earth away.
My father is not in my pictures,
But maybe he is in your words?
Is he there, with you, studying the world's thoughts from a fatherly distance,
And retrieving me when I wander from the study house,
Heading––as I am wont to do––toward faraway cities
to moisten the cemetery plots?
in the gowns of the wind,
or my father through me, asking,

Have you found your refuge yet?
asking, 
Are you happy?
"My sins press on me from above," my father finally says,
"And at the same time they fly away from me...
How about you?"
And me, I cannot answer him.
"Why," I finally say, "is my world made of the nothing,
Vanity all around, before I disappear into a greater nothing?
And why is the only wonder that the nothing––God––remains hidden?”
My father does not answer me.
Strange.  A troubled father.  A happy son.
The wind with a voice.  And me talking to no one.

Strange, indeed, a troubled father, and the inquisitive melancholy of the son he begets,
And the windy fire that spoke once, before the scholars can remember,
And the very small tools God gave me to measure my father’s days.

Jason Francisco / Michael Francisco, 2015

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