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

Combat

everything inside her is slowing down,
as if time has shifted,
the thunder that had fueled her movement and kept her perpetual,
is gone

she knows she’s dying,
and it seems a ridiculous death,
caused not by the rapid growth of sinister cells invading,
but by the painful slowing down

without the thunder inside her,
there is an unbelievable emptiness,
ash where fire used to burn

I see in her eyes the combat,
the fighting against the belief that when you no longer exist,
the world around you ceases as well

though she never thought much of herself,
she is grasping,
convinced the world is contained within her,
denying the fear that it all probably just goes on,
it all just continues

and I don’t know which is more painful to swallow

Roots

I still think about the way he listens to my secrets,
cradling the words and folding them into himself,
even as I continue to unearth the worst of me,
digging so deep,
I chip away the cracked to find the patinae,
so aged,
I taste rust in the back of throat

many days,
my bones feel as if they’re already drawing me
into the earth,
but he reminds me it’s just a returning
to the safety of our roots

For Just a Moment

the news is never expected,
even though we know to expect news,
and more news

there’s no room for tears inside shock,
so after we made it into the car,
I held her hand and we cried together

at home, I helped her get comfortable,
and we made space for the things no one wants to say,
made space for the fear and grief and tears,
made space for silence

then I made lunch,
and as we sat,
I told her a story I remembered about Grandpa’s old house by the train tracks,
where I used to take pennies from his penny crates,
leave them on the tracks and wait anxiously for them to be to be flattened,
remembering their heat and surprising smoothness between my fingers,
the lingering smell of hot copper

I knew she’d be surprised I’d remembered,
that it would lead to some other story I hadn’t yet heard,
some postage stamp echo of time I could carefully collect,
another piece of her I could hold on to

but I also knew when there’s only fear and unknown ahead,
sometimes there’s great comfort in the past,
in slicing wide open a tidbit of time, like magic,
to share with someone we love,
in the traveling back in time,
bringing one back inside the mind and body,
back to oneself,
even if just for a moment

Rain

it’s not a midlife crisis,
it’s a cracking,
like thin ice on a puddle of water,
first just some hairline wrinkles around the eyes,
then the rest, all at once

it’s a 40-odd year journey of finally feeling free enough to crack,
of figuring out how to pick apart the shell and stand in the presence of myself,
of giving myself permission to unearth and to write,
but also to stalk my own soul,
and sometimes having too much of my own self

sometimes the stalking hurts,
if for no other reason than my skin doesn’t feel like it’s mine;
sometimes I panic,
because I’ve been staring at the answers for so long,
but can’t locate the questions

finding and asking the right questions,
speaking them out loud and in the open,
oh, God –
it turns the air around my words into weather

they say a person’s personality is the sum of their experiences,
but that isn’t entirely true;
if my past was all that defined me,
I’d never be able to put up with myself –
I need the freedom to convince myself that I’m more than the mistakes I made yesterday,
that I am all of my next choices, too,
all of my tomorrows

I am words into rain,
face upturned as the dirt around my bare feet becomes freckled with brown question marks,
my body a thing to be spoken with

and I reach out with open arms for those I love,
pulling them so close there will never be room for blame

Paper Moon

we wake to an odd familiarity,
more said these days than not,
single cup coffees brewing in succession as the morning begins its foreshadowed burn,
the dew’s moist breath hanging the tall oaks with fog,
and the air standing nearly still except for the slow flap of the robins’ wings lifting from the treetops

Ma sits at the old kitchen table,
sipping her coffee while leaning forward in her everyday chair,
telling stories as the sun rises,
some of them her favorites, echoes I’ve heard so many times before,
while others are surprises, custom cut-outs of time that needed somewhere to go,
so I listen, absorbing them through my skin,
nodding all the while

in the afternoon, I busy myself as she rests,
tidying and organizing and cleaning,
doing the shopping and the cooking,
all the things I hope will help ease the day-to-day business of living

at nightfall, we sit in lawn chairs on the back porch watching the squirrels scurry by,
a paper moon appearing faceless in the still cloudless sky,
stretches of blade grass sliced wide open by chain link and asphalt,
the air adorned with a constant, treaded hum,
as the trees lining the property bend to wear the shape of the welcomed wind

we talk about tomorrows and what-ifs or something funny one of the kids did recently,
but some of the time, we just sit

during the quiet times, I can no longer help but notice she seems so tired of arguing with the elements,
not quite fading into the backdrop, but slowly sinking, leaving in her wake small, concentric circles where the whole used to be

it is then that I realize the loneliness of a lifetime of parenting;
a future unknowable to a parent and a past unknowable to a child,
a reluctant knowing that time ticks by with a quickening urgency and you never want to let go

and in the pinky-red glow of the setting of the sun, I know:
soon, I’ll have to say goodbye

Before

life was Dorothy Hamill haircuts and bright white roller skates with colorful wheels,
dimples and batted eyelashes and 25c ginger ale in returnable bottles

before it became grocery store boxes of hair color and the embarrassment of paper food stamps,
30 pounds of extra weight and fingernails bit to the quick and too many crushed cans of Milwaukee’s Best Lite littering the shitty apartment

life was bruises no one could see and tear-soaked pillow cases,
reduced priced school lunches and ketchup sandwiches at home and too many unasked questions by too many people who were supposed to be doing the asking

before it became her own hands swinging and her mouth repeating and too many more tears on another generation of pillow cases,
expired milk and bare cupboards and needle tracks up arms that have hugged all the wrong people