I Didn’t Know Your Love

I didn’t know, Mother
How gently you held me to your chest
The hours you invested in my nourishment
The nights you were the only one awake with me
The days you forfeited to make me
A little bit of a better person
Years slipped by like baby breaths
Trips to Safeway for Saltines and licorice
At every piano recital and gymnastics meet
Every haircut, heartbreak, and injury

The love you poured into me and you got nothing
The love you poured around me when I closed myself up
As I dug at my arms with a switchblade and
Wrote notes on how to tie a noose and
Pushed away my birthday cake and
Shut myself in my room to get high
And spent nights crawling out my window and
Lying to you
Thinking I wanted to die
So I refused you
And everything
You offered

And I’m sorry, Mother
When I was younger, I didn’t know
Your love is vast like an ocean
Your love sheds light in the earliest hours
Your love comes back like the tide on the shore
Your love is an unmoving mountain I tried to climb
Your love is the sun I see each morning and forget to acknowledge
And I’m sorry it took me so long to discover
When I was younger, Mother
I didn’t know

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Fickle Heart

My fickle heart, a poison apple
I dare not hand away
Lodged inside me like a sickness
I can’t wash down the drain
I want to cleanse myself of thoughts
Of you, your touch
How I imagine your breath to tickle
Hot on my bare neck
My greedy fingertips, going after
The poison apple every time
And I can never settle down
Never be satisfied
Cheating in my genes
Chasing in my design
Conquering and scoring
And losing every time

Going into Surgery

The nurse inserts a needle under my skin
and I allow IV fluid into me. They warmed it.
Taped tubes fast to my bony arm.
He squeezes my hand to say, you will be okay.
I wrote my will at home, just in case.
Machines bleep and I sigh. Mostly it is quiet,
this early in the morning on the ward.
We snap a picture of me looking bleak.
Nurse returns, I am leaving now for the OR
in a squeaking gurney. She allows one last kiss.
Nurse and I chat as the ceiling slides past.
It’s just like sleeping, she says. I tell her
I haven’t slept well in a week; I might nod
into the next needle. You’ll feel it soon.
I wait for a rest and a dream.

20 minutes

Let’s split up.
She says it without malice or force,
and the words fall like
an act of kindness.

Warmth drains from his cheeks
into the wind; the red rock surrounding them
absorbs the dying light. His heart
a painful fist.

Then she
is handing him
the keys to the Honda
and saying 20 minutes,
and tilting her head in question

Air finds his lungs,
expand, contract
oxygen, CO2
in, out
rhythmic footfalls like a pulse
rinse the panic from his veins
nodding away the fear
20 minutes

Midst of the Gale

It drains us, the cruelty
Prejudice seeping up from
Under stacks of paper
Compassion folded tight
Into a wallet, & squashed

Exhausted tears cannot
Sustain life; we lean heavily
Against each other’s shoulders
Palms in an island tempest
Grown weary
Grown suspicious

A plague gnaws the very land
Our trunks anchor to
Without it,
Where can we go?

Snowy Morning/For Emily

The snow falling this morning reminds me of you
Tree limbs so crisp and the world is new

I sit at my window, watching the street
To reminisce and envision the next time we meet

My heart knows I likely won’t see you again
So my imagination must fill that void in

Are you building a snowman, or tunneling deep
To a whole different world where wild wolves sleep?

Are you sipping hot cocoa and playing a game
Of witches and fairies and dragons to tame?

Are you running through snowdrifts, wild and free
Knowing all of the good things you’ll be?

I sit at my window, not crying, not really
Recalling the serious times and the silly

Thinking back to our jokes, our games, and our smiles
The frustration and anger every once in a while

When you love someone, see, each memory sticks
So you carry them always in your bag of tricks

And when I start to miss you, I’ll think of those days
We acted like sloths creeping down the hallways

The students and teachers all looked so confused
When we said, “We’re just slothing around, how ‘bout you?”

I wish you goodbye as snow creates a fresh place
And hope wherever you are, you’re smiling and safe

What’s that smell?

Poverty doesn’t just look like
an empty kitchen, smell like dust and stale air.
This kind of poor smells alarming,
like something is very sick
It looks more shameful

And the children know it. They say,
“Miss, what’s that smell?” and look
towards one of their classmates
And I have to say, “Don’t you worry,
we’re taking care of it, now
get back to your writing.”

And in their eyes, I see
no gratitude, just a quiet grief