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

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

Exuviae

I am the word shatter,
spidering cracks creeping to the edges,
a fragile soul covered in brittle bone and tender flesh,
as if one wrong move and I might become something else entirely

my arms twist and stretch toward something,
someone,
and just when I feel the promise of weight upon my upturned palms,
it all slips away like a ghost at daybreak,
and I am left here exposed,
alone

someone once told me the world shines shit and calls it gold, and they were right;
it makes you believe there’s another kind of life,
one that’s not so dangerous, fleshy,
full of absence so painful it takes your breath away and leaves you hollow, an exuviae,
a shadow of your almost self

I am the noise a glass makes when you run a finger along the rim,
the one that causes piercing pain,
the one that some can’t hear,
yet, I’m here

you can live your whole life dancing with the idea of mortality,
knowing that one day will be the last day,
and still never really know what that means

what does it all mean?

what happens if I am no longer this woman,
waiting to be loved in the way I let define me?

~Painting is Molting by Ben M. Arthur

Not Ready

I’m not ready.

Hell, I don’t even know how to feel yet.
I vibrate from feeling to feeling so quickly,
gliding from one to the next, never really touching down.
I smile or laugh, but the remembrance swipes it off my face.
She whispers in my ear that she doesn’t want the smiles to be stolen away, but I love her.

I knew it was coming.
But, I’m not prepared to watch her suffer.
I’m not ready to let her go.

Home

There’s a poem in this place,
in the not-quite-silence of the early morning,
in the constant companionship of the ticking of the clock,
and in the furry paw falls across the laminate floor.
It is here where a woman writes a lyric she no longer whispers to say.

There’s a poem in this place,
in its second-hand, blue collar grace,
in its well-worn wooden things and well kept lawn,
and in the backyard garden boxes engineered by her youngest daughter.
It is here where she has planted roots.

There’s a poem in this city,
in these tree-lined, bicycle-ridden streets,
in the laughter that makes its way through the open windows, lighter than the air,
and in the warmth in the smile from the elderly woman across the street.
It is here where her heart became full.

There’s a poem in his eyes, always,
in the way she says his name,
in the history they hold between their hands,
and in the future for which they know only one certainty: together.
It is here where she knows home.

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 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

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

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

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