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

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Easy

I remember bringing you home like it was yesterday,
then I blinked,
and you were a toddler,
running us ragged, questioning everything

I blinked again,
and you were a teenager,
spending too much time in your room,
stuck inside your feelings,
treading deep in the soft side of strong

then, I blinked again,
and now you are grown,
about to get your own place,
feeling your way around adulthood

I often find myself looking at you,
and when I do,
I see all of you,
all the versions of you that you’ve been;
I see glimpses of who you’ll be

and I need you to know –
it may not always have been easy,
but you need never apologize –
you’ve always been easy to love

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

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

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

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

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

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