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

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

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

I Am From

I am from Vick and Mussdog, Angela and Michael,
where kindness is valued and everyone is equal.
From coffee breath to trucker burps,
and ear rubs to fire farts,
my family is close-knit.

I am from a distant neighborhood,
where dogs are barking and trees are flowing.
From floral-smelling streets to haunted houses,
and motorcycles roaring to flower petals flying,
my neighborhood is lively.

I am from a traveling family,
where the sounds and sights of nature are like gold.
From birds chirping to waves crashing,
and flowers blooming to gravel crunching,
my visits are breathtaking.

I am from a food loving family,
where we make many inherited recipes.
From the smell of sauce to the taste of meatballs,
and the family bonding to the crackling of grease,
my meals are mouthwatering.

I am from a fortunate home,
where I am happy and healthy.
From family to friends,
and traveling to meals,
my life is a blessing.

-A poem written by my 13 year old daughter and shared with her permission.

Longing

I long for a deep and dreamless sleep,
a certain sleep,
for relief from the excruciating pain of living a life that is less than I always imagined,
less than I hoped it would be

I long for a quiet and peaceful sitting,
an undaunted sitting,
for solace from the thunderous reel that’s been stuck on repeat for as long as I can remember,
for as long as I have allowed it to play

it’s true,
I mostly prefer aloneness,
but it eats me alive to know what an increasingly isolated life I’ve been living,
a tiny, dark triangular world of gambling, shopping, and reading,
three points to which I traverse,
one after the other,
trying my best to outrun the thunder and the pain –
it’s no wonder I’m always so tired

but what I long for most of all,
is rest,
for the ability to finally stop trying to fill the seemingly infinite void,
rest from trying to make life smaller

-image via Pixabay; poem inspired by my mother

Forest

‘what happened to the forest?’, she asks,
and I tell her how I was never a sapling,
how the canopy was too dense for far too long,
that I now flourish in the splintering of old wood

but what I cannot tell her,
what my heart fractures to know,
is that I see some of my wicked splinters
were seedlings which now flourish in her

-image via Pixabay

Fraudulent

she often had this feeling in the pit of her stomach,
more often than she cared to admit, actually

it was this marrow-deep disconnect,
this soul-withering fear,
this uneasy sense that she was somehow faking a life for them,
giving them a pretend childhood

instead of listening to her gut,
instead of allowing her soul to speak,
she often asked herself –
what would others think?,
allowing that thought to guide her actions

and that left her feeling like
she was wrapped in cellophane –
this protective barrier meticulously put into place,
meant to shield her from the hurt she so intensely feared,
but that barrier was useless,
a transparent facade

because no matter how hard she tried,
there it was –
the fear, throbbing behind her eyes when she knee-jerked a guilt-inducing reaction,
tingling in her fingertips when she felt the anger hide the fear,
an empty feeling thrumming in the center of her chest when she resisted her true self

and she couldn’t stop the constant
real of regret that played over and over in her mind –
there was something so fraudulent feeling about this way of behaving

the rituals weren’t real,
the smiles weren’t real,
the kisses weren’t quite real

real was right there,
in front of her face,
but she couldn’t (wouldn’t) quite reach it

and worst of all,
she sometimes felt like they were going along for her sake;
they could see right through her

and they knew they were being shortchanged

-art by Johanna Harmon

How’d That Happen?


it tore at my heart like nothing I’d ever experienced,
watching my daughter’s youthful uncoiling dictate her moods and impulses,
confusion, pain, and fear up front,
and all I wanted to do was hold her close and comfort her,
shield her from the pain,
knowing I could not,
for that’s not the way of things

then, somewhere over the last couple of years,
something about her has slowly changed,
there’s this air of grace settling in her,
and I’m not even sure from where it came

some girls grow into womanhood gracefully,
and some remain girls all their lives,
but there it was, inside my daughter,
all of the sudden,
not a graceful entrance by any means, 
but a stealthy one

we’d just been standing there,
in the kitchen,
when she had smiled, and said,
“thanks, mom”,
and something shifted

five minutes later, I realized I could
still feel her voice filling my chest

for, it mirrored my own voice,
slightly lower and more confident than the voice I remembered her having,
and I found myself wondering when it had made its home in my daughter’s vocal cords,
in her spirit,
and why I hadn’t noticed it before 

she is all grown up,
a woman

wow

how’d that happen?

-image via Pixabay