Sick Day

Dawn sun streaks through the blinds and I would rather be sleeping
But I am reading, sipping echinacea lemon tea with honey
And remembering when I was ill as a child, terrified of the flu
I prayed Mom would stay home with me because
When I was sick she would be there there. And if she wasn’t
All I had to do was get a little sicker. I could call her
And she would let me watch TV on weekdays in a sleeping bag
While she ran to the store for popsicles and Saltines
Knowing she would return to pore over paperwork at the table
Or chat with her sister on the phone, hushing Kari’s sick
Checking on me when I didn’t get out of bed
One time she was still at work when I threw up and I cleaned
My own vomit off the sink. And cried because I wanted her there
To sit on the edge of my bed and smooth my hair
When she got home she said You didn’t have to do that, but I did
And I sank into her arms because breathing finally came easy again
Today I lie in a sleeping bag alone, writing poems and papers
Today I am an adult, taking care of myself
And missing my mother

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Apology to My Sister

I called you.
A month ago
I left you a voicemail, cordial
with a tinge of plaintive.
Could you tell?
You were drifting on the Hudson,
teaching schoolchildren about tides
or sailing or algae.
Were you cold there, at night?
I think of you when I can’t sleep,
and want to apologize
for pointing that knife at you
when we were kids.
Being a kid
doesn’t excuse that.
I am also sorry
for using my hands and words on you,
or not using them at all.
My silence might have been
the most painful tool.
Tomorrow I fly away
to another home, missing you
by hours.
We’ll share the sky,
gazing at the same fleecy clouds
and patchwork fields,
absorbed in our own respective storylines.

Sixteen

Mom always wanting to know
are those new? And where
did you get those pants, where are you
going tonight, when will you be back,
what did you two do and how is she and
have you dealt with what we discussed?

Mom always watching, me stepping
on eggshells all over the house.
Me creeping on tiptoe midday. Me
disappearing into my room where
I stashed the champagne.
With nothing to celebrate
I toast to blurriness.
I am sixteen.

Mom always nice, but not nice.
Mom comforting, staying up with me.
Mom slapping, brushing me off, Mom
with sharp blades in her voice.
Dad leaving the room, leaving, leaving.
Me asking for love and shrinking.

Me alone in my room.
Me in bed swallowing aspirin after aspirin.
I just turned sixteen, today. Me alone in bed.

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

The Gamble of DNA

Thumbing through an album of my childhood,
I am caught by the urge to cradle a child
in my arms, wild-haired and scarlet-cheeked.

I want not my former self, but an output of my DNA;
a genetic product of the traits I wish to express:
the subdued artistic sensibility,
neat gleaming rows of teeth,
a curious athletic vigor, intelligence.

I list the qualities I would do away with:
dark unending moods, panicking on plane rides,
the tendency towards alcoholism,
nocturnal jaw-grinding, and skin cancer.

Did too my parents ponder which features I might
inherit or escape, as embryo me swelled and matured?
No, for I was a surprise, a niggling itch,
and then a heart-stopping realization.

Each bleached photo of my youth reminds me
a child is a lottery ticket, a gamble
revealed over the years
as their silvery surface is slowly scratched away.

Closed Doors (Pantoum I)

Mama shut the bedroom door;
I could not ask her why.
Papa’s knees fell to the floor.
Sister began to cry.

I could not ask her why
the rocking chair was shattered.
Sister began to cry,
she said it didn’t matter.

The rocking chair was shattered:
I asked what have I done?
She said it didn’t matter,
since I’m their only son.

I asked what have I done?
Papa’s knees fell to the floor.
Since I’m their only son,
Mama shut the bedroom door.