One More Poem

This morning, when I was walking my daughter to school
here in Chicago (because, barring anything unforeseen
in the next eight years, my children will have been
entirely raised in one city, in one neighborhood —
and it’s not really a mystery why, is it?),
she said she doesn’t like these mornings when it is
cold but sunny; she likes a winter that is cold and gray.
I told her that maybe she’d like the Pacific Northwest better —
and that went in deeper than I’d intended. She’s been
thinking she might live there, she said. This was news to me.
How is it that I spoke in my father’s voice (It’s great to be open to
wherever the best opportunities are for you), not my mother’s
(Please stay)? Seattle is expensive and not how it was, I know,
and nothing is certain in anything a 13-year-old says,
I know I know I know. But I smiled at the thought of it —
what if, after all these years, that’s how I come home?
Funny life, how you break us in two, sometimes —
how you put us back together, someplace new.


Hearts of Space Remix

Not knowing how long I would be where I was,
in the in-between, I would listen to
“Music from the Hearts of Space” on NPR
for reasons I still don’t understand.

Do we ever know how long we will be where we are?
I can no longer ask my mother


It’s like looking at the moon through dark trees —
that’s how distant — and I spook myself and soothe myself, both,
every morning in the in-between.

10 (to be explained)




Emotions Other Than Love

Sitting on the floor of my bedroom in Seattle
(Kirkland — Costco boom town, after we moved away),
listening to a record where Sesame Street characters sang
various ’70s a.m. gold favorites, like “Feelings”
(whoa, whoa, whoa)
but they made it about emotions other than love.
Anger, I imagined as a hot, itchy cable-knit sweater
yellow or red, a flash like the end of a cigarette
(there it is again).
Anger was something I wanted to put somewhere
outside my room, if it had to exist at all,
maybe in a glass bowl in the kitchen, like the guppies
we had for a while, more and more of them,
giving them away in jars.

9 (to explain later)


Not Shaky

They were not shaky, my mother’s hands
the last time I ever saw her, though she fluttered them
at the over-the-bed table, wondering if the nurses
found her arrangement to be acceptable.
Her arrangement, she called it — a card or two,
a vase of flowers, the perpetual plastic water jug.
It was not shaky at all, my mother’s right hand,
when she raised it as I was leaving, when she
waggled her fingers in the air at me, once, twice —
that unmistakable gesture of goodbye to a child.

8 (to explain later)



Do we all die with some things unfulfilled, unused?
I suppose so, as my father would say. I suppose.
I am in that process even now, of never living up to
my potential. It as heartless and inevitable as a snowstorm.
How many years I looked askance at my mother
for not being whatever it is she needed to be, so she was
a contained star burning itself out in the kitchen —
one kitchen after another after another. At least she felt it,
the confinement, rattled against it now and then,
entering a short story contest, say, or standing up for
her own sovereignty. Her clipped, bitten fury when
a telemarketer called, asked for the head of the household,
and I said, I’m sorry. He’s not at home right now.

7 (to explain later)


Because I’m Still in Love with You

I would wear matching Christmas pinafores with you,
without complaint, if you sewed us another pair of them,
even now that I am 45 years old and you would be 76.
We’re getting to the point where I can’t say
how old you should be anymore — but I feel it nonetheless.
Anyway, I would follow you anywhere in the country
again, in pinafores or watermelon skirts, or
woman symbol T-shirts from that moment in the ’70s.
I would follow you and be your shadow until I die, too.



6 (to explain later)


Things Fell Apart

Those salt dough ornaments we made in Nashville
when I was three, somehow survived all the next moves:
Nashville to Seattle, Seattle to Thief River Falls,
Thief River Falls to Dayton (rented house),
Dayton (rented house) to Dayton (house on Elmway Drive),
Dayton (house on Elmway Drive) to Worthington Hills
(unless I should call it Columbus — it’s hard, sometimes,
to decide whether suburb or city is the identifier).
Anyway, those salt dough ornaments are up there with
the aerosol can of Amway brand air freshener, as far as
impermanent things that made it all the way to the end.
And then, inexplicably, the ornaments molded and crumbled,
and — completely explicably — I’m sure my dad threw away
the air freshener before he moved out of our last house,
not knowing I would want an ancient spray can,
with so many other things to sift through and ask about.
I still have the story of how one day in the ’90s, my mom
was getting ready for a fancy-lady event, accidentally
sprayed her hair with that ’70s Amway air freshener
that had traveled at least from Seattle, a quarter century.
Funny, how the things that stayed with us took on an air
of heroism, shared struggle. Funny, how things fell apart
or were discarded, after so many years and all those miles.


At the One House We Ever Rented

For a year, we had a tennis court
and a rusty orange swing set,
neighbors over fences,
my mother digging in her garden,
talking to the nice young couple
who lived behind us
(they ended up divorcing when the wife
had an affair with the organist at their church —
but I digress). Anyway, the tennis court
was the star of that yard, taking up almost
the entire thing, but not quite, and allowing me
a smooth outdoor surface on which to roller skate
in tall white skates with red and blue stripes
and a mismatched pair of tube socks
pulled as high as they could go.

11 (to be explained)


The Dinner Hour

Once, when the local Fred Astaire dance studio called
during the dinner hour, my mother listened to the sales pitch
for ballroom dancing lessons, then said she would have to decline
because she was in a wheelchair and “my husband better not
sign up for any dance lessons without me.”

It was a lie.

Other times, she wouldn’t tell such egregious falsehoods,
but would beg the person to quit calling at 6:00 or 6:30:
“Please. It’s the dinner hour” — as if she had no other means

to make them stop. When we asked her why she answered,
didn’t just say, “No, thank you” and hang up — or, better yet,
go on the Do Not Call registry — she protested. Telemarketers

need jobs, too, she said, and who was she to get them all fired
when a sure-footed lie could get her off the phone just as well?