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

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?

Impossibility

“how are you?,”
she asks,
like people always do,
as if she, like most,
does not understand the absolute impossibility of the question

it becomes a frantic puzzle to decode:
does she really want to know the truth?
how can I possibly sum it up in a simple answer?

or is she just asking in the meaningless way people do,
only wanting the answer,
“fine”

because I am not fine

Contrition


my body is not an act of contrition

it’s not a performance I put on to pay penance to those who must look at me;
this is not a transaction,
my effort at some standard of beauty
for your regard

I will not apologize for your attention,
or arrange myself to make your looking at me a pleasant experience

I will not suffocate,
agree to the expense,
or bow to the impracticality of it all;
I will not mold myself to earn your recognition

my body is not an act of contrition

Riveting

his face transforms as he stares at me,
a burning recklessness filling his eyes as he leads me into a wind tunnel kiss,
my whole self leaning into the sweeping lost

I become the warmth, the wet,
the tickle, the sting

we can’t let go –
it becomes the writing of a song,
a balancing act of unearthing,
the ferociously visceral sensing of the other as we sway,
back and forth in search of a revelatory harmony

and I realize the only time I feel alive is when he looks at me like that,
riveting me to the moment

Suspended

his voice is low and soft,
a piece of silk you might keep in a drawer and pull out only on special occasions just to feel it between your fingers,
as a stream of I love you’s purls from his lips,
like rain from cloud to roof to eave,
and her face becomes fierce with belief,
drawing a circle around all the hours they’ve spent together,
a feeling of longing crashing against the underside of her ribs as the swollen, humid air begins to swirl with their whispers,
suspended,
like the iridescent membranes of soap bubbles

Seen

he was tall but not too tall,
his lips thin but easy to smile,
deep viridescent eyes set beneath a strong brow,
not brooding exactly,
but very serious,
looking at her with an unexpected sincerity

she’d met him briefly before and had seen him around campus over the last few years,
and though she didn’t know him well at all,
this night, she felt a strange pulse of profound recognition

throughout the evening they kept glancing at one another,
their eyes each drawn to the other,
and normally,
she hated being stared at,
but this was somehow very different

it was the oddest, most intense feeling –
she had the sensation that she was being seen,
and she hadn’t even known she’d felt invisible

Moments

they’d loved one another for so long,
and sometimes life began to feel a little rote,
but when they came together,
they forgot the lists and routines,
they forgot who they were and what brought them together

but she didn’t forget he was the most trustworthy, honest, and compassionate human she’d ever known,
the reason she could be who she was in every moment

and he didn’t forget she was the empathic fire at his backside,
a simple woman with a complicated heart,
the beating of his own heart

what happened between them was always unexpected;
in these moments a new future opened wide –
a world where anything could happen and nothing was impossible