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

Set to Ink

what do you do when you wake up one day and everything is different?

when you know you know,
and there’s no not knowing,
so you must dive deeper and deeper,
examining your feelings,
your choices,
all the small steps that lead you to where you are in this less than desirable existence?

what do you do when you know that process will lead to a monumental upheaval?

when, having witnessed this once camouflaged knowledge,
you know you either have to make massive changes,
or slay your spirit with some hardcore cognitive dissonance?

what will be the knife in your back,
pushing you forward with all of your might?

I don’t know what the knife is exactly,
but I hear it;
I’ve always heard it,
first a whisper,
then a roar that’s impossible to ignore,
a knowing from a sacred depth that is both fiercely mine and part of something much greater than myself

something that aches for its processes to be set to ink

Triage

I hear the constant prattling of the voice, but I cannot hear my own thoughts.
When you speak, I watch your lips move, grasp their graceful forming of the words.
I watch your eyes speak louder than your voice, notice your face animate with conviction.
I read as I listen.
The voice incessantly clacks its triage like keys on an old typewriter, always placing feeling before logic.
Your feelings before mine.
I have done that for so long, I can hear your thoughts, even when your lips do not move.
In the mirror, I try like hell to read my own lips, but the keys are eerily silent.

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

Inertia

the rains come again,
tap-tapping at the window panes,
a symphony out-of-sync,
not unlike the fearful beating of her own heart

a familiar, creeping terror rises from a place beyond thoughts,
some innermost trap door flying open,
her instinct to leap upon and lean against it with all her might,
to padlock it shut,
but that energy has long ago evaporated

so she murmurs in a rhythm,
uttering age-old phrases that spin-cycle in her mind,
an attempt at talking herself off an unrevealed ledge,
fear pumping off her in virulent, toxic fumes

she isn’t herself,
hasn’t been for a long while;
her very smell like that of imminent winter,
brittle and airless with the heavy inertia of time

why has no one noticed?

Guilty

I watch her move through the motions,
real emotion wearing a half-mask,
her eyes telling a story that’s never been spoken,
and probably never will,
seventy plus years of doing the next easiest thing,
not necessarily the next right one

it’s such a long road,
pebbles from our shared path littering my own,
and sometimes I feel guilty as hell for just being able to live my life;
there should be a word for this,
the way it feels to steal something that’s already yours

What I’m Made Of

all my life I’ve wondered what’s inside of me,
what I’m really made of

is it all hope-driven gears, creak-cranking,
squeaky with cynical grease?

or is it luminous rays of wonder and awe,
eyes, blinking and seeking love, pure and true?

is it all smoke, a fevered kiln of passing time,
age-dried straw, a mess of flaking atrophy?

or is it a not-so-flash flood, raging, rising,
the result of an aching, beating heart?

is it all waves of water and crackling fire,
opposing forces, one constantly quenching the other?

or do I simply burn for all that I am not,
for all I do not have?

-artwork by my daughter

Smile

they had all gathered to celebrate,
a room full of family from near and far,
her longing to see them equal in measure to the anxiety she felt in a crowded room,
one full of prickly expectation

she tried so hard to be the mirror others expected her to be,
but her smile was like a wound that had thickened as it healed,
nothing but rough, numb skin where nerve endings once existed