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

Vacuum

his voice doesn’t rise,
but something in his eyes changes,
just like that

in the way they suffocate her,
his words, precise,
his jaw muscles flexing and lips tightening to form
each
deliberate
syllable

his personality stretching and expanding to fill the vacuum left by her fear,
her retraction

her perceived nothingness

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

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

Grace

I open the door,
but she’s not there;
her everyday chair
is empty

in her room,
the quilt is ruffled and twisted on the bed,
the fan has been knocked backward and the footstool pushed to the side of her easy chair,
traumatic evidence,
an eerie, almost-quiet filling the room,
except for the lonely snore-breathing of the dog,
snuggled into her favorite fleece blanket at the bottom of the bed,
waiting for whom she wants most

it’s so strange to be here when she’s not,
when she won’t ever be again,
won’t ever be resting back on the fluff of all her pillows,
reading on her Kindle,
sucking on Good & Plenty’s or chewing on Chick-O-Sticks,
no more belly-laughing at silly meme’s to be heard from the other room

those last few days while she held on,
I spent as many hours as I could sitting next to her;
I told myself even if she wasn’t conscious,
she knew I was there

what I really meant, though,
was that when I looked back on those days,
I would know that I had been there,
that I’d held her hand,
that I’d kissed her forehead and said my goodbye

because it still happens suddenly, even when you’ve been told it’s terminal,
even when your hope and your reason and your reality have collided,
especially when it doesn’t happen in any of the countless scenarios you’ve played out in your mind,
even when she’s begun to fade away more and more,
until you swear you can only see her outline against the sheets,
even when you’ve had the chance to say goodbye

when life leaves,
it’s always sudden

and just as sudden,
sadness moves in and sits with me,
another passenger,
distorting every view,
just like the way the world looks from the bottom of a swimming pool,
when you try like hell to right yourself and find the sun

something in you changes when your mother dies;
you go about the rest of your days just like you have before,
pretending you are fine,
knowing it is all a lie –
for a while,
you become an actor in the play of your own life

because grief is an entity unto itself;
for a time, it makes a tunnel of our lives,
and it is all too easy to lose sight of other people in the darkness with us,
to wish they weren’t there,
so their loss might stop rubbing up against our own

but if I’ve learned anything from watching my mother become fragile,
witnessing her fight like hell to come to terms with the finality of life,
it’s that it’s ok to be sad with someone who is dying,
and it’s ok to sit in the sadness with others;
it is a gift to be invited in close during tender times,
moments of grace we can share with one another

because, in between the question and the answer,
the beginning and the end,
there is always grace

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

Communion

life has drastically evolved in our 26 years together,
and we, too, are not the same,
but, still, your smile softens the sharp edges of this hard world,
flapping its wings so high in the air it falls upon me like a meteorite,
its iridescent fabric trailing red thunder and liquid gold,
planting in my heart the kind of hopeful purple only communion can produce

I love you