Ode to Dad’s Favorite Shirt

you were a gift from one of us siblings,
I’m not sure which one,
because we all bought him some variation of that shirt over the years –
that’s what happens when a parent says to their kids that they like something once at Christmas

for a long while after,
he wore you all the time,
maybe sometimes because you were more comfortable with wear,
but more likely because we couldn’t afford to have too many in the closet,
and he always made himself last in line when there was enough money for buying

many years after he unwrapped you,
he still wore you,
thinning and faded and frayed a little at the collar,
and sometimes I wished and prayed he would please not wear you in front of my friends again,
maybe he could wear one just a little bit newer

maybe I was embarrassed,
but maybe you also reminded me,
when I did not want to be reminded,
that he was growing old

I grew to dislike you then,
but, now, when I close my eyes and think of Dad,
there you are

because of you,
he was easy to find in a crowd if our hands accidentally let loose of one another,
easy to pick out in the bleachers after I hit a double and frantically searched for him,
just to see the smile of pride on his face,
easy to see a few isles down in the grocery store when I’d lingered a little too long in the candy isle,
stopping to count the newspaper delivery quarters I’d stuffed in my pocket

because of you,
I remember his consistence,
his sentimentality,
his humility,
his soft, steady comfort beneath my cheek when I snuggled in

Blister

some days, I can’t feel much at all,
but I can smell my own grief,
overwhelming, distant,
like the first hint of smoke hitching in the wind,
a foreshadowing of something larger,
gaining momentum

but there is always too much to do,
and never enough time,
so I snuff it out,
pinch the red hot phosphorus of it between my tired fingers,
leaving behind only scorched, raw skin

it’s fine,
it’s fine

I keep repeating it to myself,
but as I go about the day,
one mountainous thing to the next,
I keep catching a whiff of it,
and I can’t help pressing the blistering it leaves behind,
both comforting and chilling

and I wish I could just take a needle to it,
relieve some of the pressure,
but I can’t –
I can’t say I miss her,
I’m not ready yet

Fly

what keeps me here?,
I have wondered

and I know for certain,
it isn’t the walls
or the simple things inside;
we are deliberately humble people

it isn’t the long history,
the feeling of responsibility,
or some sense of obligation, even

Mary Oliver said,
“For the birds who own nothing –
the reason they can fly,”
and she was right

but, oh, isn’t it the best feeling,
to have the people we call home
to whom we can return?

Brittle

it’s the people you think you know that you really have to worry about,
because one day, you wake up,
and you don’t actually know them

you look at the person,
and they are so familiar it hurts,
but, somehow, they are also a stranger;
you know you love them,
but you no longer recognize them

and you realize the knowing is just a story you’ve been telling yourself,
the one that helps you get out of bed every morning

you knew each other once,
but, at some point, it became easier to write a story than to cross the awkward space that grew,
one silent, stiffening moment at a time

now it’s all too brittle,
and you just want them to leave

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

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

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