Lit Guides

My Father’s Kites | Summary and Analysis

Analysis of My Father’s Kites by Joseph Alison

My Father’s Kites is a part of Joseph’s poetry collection My Father’s Kites, Steel Toe Books which was published in 2010. All poems in the collection are a eulogy to her father. Alison writes about her strained relationship with him, his untimely death and the emotional consequences she faced afterwards. The poems are intimate sonnets written in free verse, which talk about her perspective as a daughter.

My Father’s Kites | Summary and Analysis

Joseph’s poem weaves a story of family love and the story of a father-daughter relationship. She writes about his untimely death and the emotional consequences she faced afterwards. We can say the poem explores her relationship with her father, the emotions, feelings and thoughts that followed his death. The poet is mostly nostalgic about her memories with her father. She reminisces about her favourite childhood feelings. The kites signify an intimate and touching memory of the poet. Growing up in a dull and gloomy environment the flight of the kites provided some interesting and inspiring feelings to the poet. She wishes she could fly like a kite and establish herself in their family’s yard.

The poet’s mother passed away when she was young and afterwards she had a bittersweet relationship with her father. Her father was a black man from the Caribbean and had to struggle to settle in a foreign country. The lines seem as if she’s trying to call her dead father back to her. The poem which seems partly a homage and partly about her days with her father is a quiet poem with heavy words related to death and mourning. The poem flows smoothly without breaking into stanzas and explores the themes of longing, nostalgia, death and liberation.

My Father’s Kites | Analysis, Lines 1-6

“were crude assemblages of paper sacks and twine,

amalgams of pilfered string and whittled sticks,

twigs pulled straight from his garden, dry patch”

“of stony land before our house only he

could tend into beauty, thorny roses goaded

into color. How did he make those makeshift”

The poem follows right from the title as the poet describes her father’s kites as “crude assemblages” of paper and twines. The kite has been arranged by stolen strings and crafted wooden sticks. The sticks used are taken straight from their garden. Her father had to arrange a kite from scraps perhaps because they couldn’t buy the proper ones. 

 The poet describes their front garden as dry and stony land. That uninteresting piece of land was turned into a beautiful rose garden which was only possible because of her father. The “thorny” roses were tuned into colour by her father. The poet describes her father’s nurturing character. Her father took care of her after her mother passed away thus in a way he helped ease her pain and bring some colour into her life. She then expresses her awe at how her father managed to make the kites rise in the sky.

My Father’s Kites | Analysis, Lines 7-12

“diamonds rise, grab ahold of the wind to sail

into sky like nothing in our neighborhood

of dented cars and stolid brick houses could?”

“It wasn’t through faith or belief in otherworldly

grace, but rather a metaphor from moving

on a street where cars rusted up on blocks,”

The kites are referred to as “diamonds” due to their diamond-like shape. By calling them diamonds it also expresses their significance to the poet, these memories are precious to her. The poet wonders how nothing else in the neighbourhood could get “hold of the wind sail” as the kites did. The neighbourhood is described as having dented cars and dull brick houses. It’s a dull and depressing atmosphere where she lives.

 She says that her father could make the kites fly not due to some godly power or faith but because of the wind’s strength in that quiet environment. 

My Father’s Kites | Analysis, Lines 13-18

“monstrously immobile, and planes, bound

for that world we could not see, roared

above our heads, our houses pawns”

“in a bigger flight path. How tricky the launch

into air, the wait for the right eddy to lift

our homemade contraption into the sullen”

The cars in the streets do not move, they stay in one place and slowly get rusted. This gives them a “monstrous” feel. The planes invisible to the poet fly towards different parts of the world. The houses on the ground just appear as “pawns” in the flight’s path.

The poet talks about how launching the kites were very tricky. There was a lot of waiting for the kite to get a lift up with a good flow of breeze. The sky is described as moody or depressing. 

My Father’s Kites | Analysis, Lines 19-24

“blue sky above us, our eyes stinging

with the glut of the sun. And the sad tangle

after flight, collapse of grocery bags”

“and broken branches, snaggle of string

I still cannot unfurl. Father, you left me

with this unsated need to find the most”

The poet lifts her head to watch the flight of the kites in the sky. However afterwards when the kites fall down they collapse like “grocery bags” it makes her sad. The kites can’t take long flights, they are bound to come down to earth. They turn into the trash, their preciousness is lost and this makes her upset.

As the kites fall on the ground there are only broken branches and knotted strings left behind, as the kites fall apart. The kites turn into a messed up mass of objects. Then the poet directly addresses her Father, stating that he left her with an insatiable desire. She can’t open herself up or understand whatever she’s feeling.

My Father’s Kites | Analysis, Lines 25-30

“delicately useful of breezes, to send

myself into the untenable, balance my weight

as if on paper wings, a flutter then fall,”

“a stutter back to earth, an elastic sense

of being and becoming forged in our front

yard, your hand over mine over balled string.”

What she feels is a desire to find usefulness in delicate breezes. The poet wants to fly like the kites in the wind, to become “untenable”. She wishes to balance her weight with paper wings and fly for a moment then land back on the ground. 

She wants to come back to the front yard as if she’s “forged” in that ground with some “elastic sense”. She remembers her father’s hands over hers when he used to teach her how to fly kites. She’s nostalgic about her memories with her father and wishes to go back to their house and feel that childhood joy again. She misses the sense of home, safety and security that came with her father being around her. 



My Father’s Kites | About the poet

Allison Joseph (1967-) is an American contemporary poet. She teaches in Carbondale, Illinois, where she is part of the creative writing faculty at Southern Illinois University. She also serves as editor and poetry editor of Crab Orchard Review. She uses small independent presses to publish her works; her well-known works include Confessions of a Barefaced Woman (Red Hen Press, 2018) and Corporal Muse (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2018). She has many awards and honours including fellowships from the Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers’ Conferences and from the Illinois Arts Council. 



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