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

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

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

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

For Just a Moment

the news is never expected,
even though we know to expect news,
and more news

there’s no room for tears inside shock,
so after we made it into the car,
I held her hand and we cried together

at home, I helped her get comfortable,
and we made space for the things no one wants to say,
made space for the fear and grief and tears,
made space for silence

then I made lunch,
and as we sat,
I told her a story I remembered about Grandpa’s old house by the train tracks,
where I used to take pennies from his penny crates,
leave them on the tracks and wait anxiously for them to be to be flattened,
remembering their heat and surprising smoothness between my fingers,
the lingering smell of hot copper

I knew she’d be surprised I’d remembered,
that it would lead to some other story I hadn’t yet heard,
some postage stamp echo of time I could carefully collect,
another piece of her I could hold on to

but I also knew when there’s only fear and unknown ahead,
sometimes there’s great comfort in the past,
in slicing wide open a tidbit of time, like magic,
to share with someone we love,
in the traveling back in time,
bringing one back inside the mind and body,
back to oneself,
even if just for a moment

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

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

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.