Ode to Dad’s Favorite Shirt

you were a gift from one of us siblings,
I’m not sure which one,
because we all bought him some variation of you over the years –
that’s what happens when a parent says to their kids that they like something once at Christmas

for a long while after,
he wore you all the time,
perhaps it was because you became more comfortable with wear,
but more likely because we couldn’t afford to have too many in the closet,
and he always made himself last in line when there was enough money for buying

many years after he unwrapped you,
he still wore you,
thinning and faded and frayed a little at the collar,
and sometimes I wished and prayed he would please not wear you in front of my friends again,
hoping he would wear one just a little bit newer

maybe I was embarrassed,
but maybe you also reminded me,
when I did not want to be reminded,
that he was growing old

I grew to dislike you then,
but, now, when I close my eyes and think of Dad,
there you are

because of you,
he was easy to find in a crowd if our hands accidentally let loose of one another,
easy to pick out in the bleachers after I hit a double and frantically searched for him,
just to see the smile of pride on his face,
easy to see a few isles down in the grocery store when I’d lingered a little too long in the candy isle,
stopping to count the newspaper delivery quarters I’d stuffed in my pocket

because of you,
I remember his consistency,
his sentimentality,
his humility,
his soft, steady comfort beneath my cheek when I snuggled in

Blister

some days, I can’t feel much at all,
but I can smell my own grief,
overwhelming, distant,
like the first hint of smoke hitching in the wind,
a foreshadowing of something larger,
gaining momentum

but there is always too much to do,
and never enough time,
so I snuff it out,
pinch the red hot phosphorus of it between my tired fingers,
leaving behind only scorched, raw skin

it’s fine,
it’s fine

I keep repeating it to myself,
but as I go about the day,
one mountainous thing to the next,
I keep catching a whiff of it,
and I can’t help pressing the blistering it leaves behind,
both comforting and chilling

and I wish I could just take a needle to it,
relieve some of the pressure,
but I can’t –
I can’t say I miss her,
I’m not ready yet

Fly

what keeps me here?,
I have wondered

and I know for certain,
it isn’t the walls
or the simple things inside;
we are deliberately humble people

it isn’t the long history,
the feeling of responsibility,
or some sense of obligation, even

Mary Oliver said,
“For the birds who own nothing –
the reason they can fly,”
and she was right

but, oh, isn’t it the best feeling,
to have the people we call home
to whom we can return?

Brittle

it’s the people you think you know that you really have to worry about,
because one day, you wake up,
and you don’t actually know them

you look at the person,
and they are so familiar it hurts,
but, somehow, they are also a stranger;
you know you love them,
but you no longer recognize them

and you realize the knowing is just a story you’ve been telling yourself,
the one that helps you get out of bed every morning

you knew each other once,
but, at some point, it became easier to write a story than to cross the awkward space that grew,
one silent, stiffening moment at a time

now it’s all too brittle,
and you just want them to leave