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for Billy Miller, remembering events on January 4, 2012

 

 

When the man pulled my father

from the icy waters of Lake Michigan,

he did not know years later my step-daughter

would need someone to buy her a sweater

so she would feel nurtured, did not know

that my son would need someone

to make a mosaic with him so that he

could feel loved, did not know

that my daughter would need

someone to tell her that she

was beautiful. When the man

pulled my father out of the water—

my dad had been fishing alone—

that off-duty fireman couldn’t have known

that years later this very daughter

would sit beside her father and hold his hand

and weep at the simple gift

of being able to hold his hand.

The fireman was doing what he knew to do—

to rush to the person in need of help.

He didn’t think then of the other lives

blessed by the man. Did not think

of the other lives he blessed with his hands

when he chose to try, though the odds

of saving the man were low.

He knew only to reach.

Years later, my mother still sleeps

beside the man that was pulled

from the winter lake.

Give us hands that know to reach

for each other—stranger, neighbor,

friend. Give us hands that unthinkingly

choose to save the family

we’ve never met.

 

See the news story here.

 

 

 

 

 

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One Thanksgiving

 

 

 

for those not around

the table, setting

a place in the heart

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One Together

 

weeping under the weight

of the burden, still grateful

to help carry it

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In the crèche arranged on the piano each Christmas,

the clay face of the virgin mother is eternally beaming

at the miracle child in his swaddling clothes,

 

and the miracle child is sleeping, always peacefully sleeping,

no matter how loudly my son pretends he’s a race car, no matter

how many people are laughing in the kitchen.

 

And Joseph, he is looking out across the piano

as if staring through the stable, staring through centuries,

perhaps, as if he can already see the tables upended

 

in the temple, can already smell the sweetness

of shared loaves and the pungency of fish, can hear

Mary weeping, or is it me he hears, playing piano

 

and singing about the hopes and fears of all the years,

then pausing to ask my children not to argue, please,

and to use their kindest voices with each other—and they

 

continue to bicker. Meanwhile the shepherd and his sheep

gaze up at the crack in the wall in awe, as if there were stars there,

stars brightly shining, and yonder, breaking, a new and glorious morn.

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These, too, are your family,

any who would build a wall,

any who would throw a stone.

The other is your sister,

your brother, your mother.

Pick up the stones

and build fire circles

where everyone’s voice

can be heard.

Tear down the walls

and use the debris

to build bridges.

Tattoo these words

on your hands,

on your tongue:

we are all in this

together.

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Going Forty-Five

Still in spots, oh!,

the fawn at the edge of the willows.

It tugged with startling ferocity

at its mother’s underside.

I wanted to stop and stare,

to linger there, to disappear

in the thicket and watch

as they grazed and nursed and slept.

Instead, I continued on toward

home at the edge

of the willows where there

were hungry mouths

to feed, and milk to warm,

and waiting beds.

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I hear America singing, varied carols I hear.
–Walt Whitman

After the mashed potatoes were passed
and after the wine was sipped from the glass
and after the children had left their plates
and before we were ready for pie and cake
we sat around the table and sang
Hotel California, Scarborough Fair,
Morning Has Broken, Walk the Line,
Blister in the Sun, Wild Mountain Thyme
Moon River and My Romance,
Blood on the Saddle, If I Were a Rich Man,
and the words we didn’t know we hummed
or we la-dee-dahed until we found
a phrase to lead us in again.
It’s so like music, gratitude,
the way it draws us closer in
and makes the world feel intimate,
as if anything could happen,
even peace, even love.

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In my family
my job was to
be perfect.
To get straight As,
the lead in plays,
to sing in tune,
to clean my room,
to not be loud,
to please a crowd,
to not say no.
I loved them so,
and this is why
I learned to lie.

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It wasn’t today.
The plane took off.
Flew. Landed.

My brother arrived.
He drove us
through eight lanes of traffic

to a beautiful home
where it was so easy
to hug, to laugh,

to eat, to remember,
to relax, to not even
think that it

might have gone
another way, so easy
to smile, to give thanks.

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By the ankles
he would hold me
at the end
of the long, white pier.
“Don’t fall in,”
he would say.
“Whatever you do,
don’t fall in.”
His enormous,
generous hands
gripped my small legs
and he’d dangle
my sun-bleached hair
toward the water
till it dipped in the lake
and began to drip.
“Don’t fall in,”
I’d be squealing by now,
not out of any real fear,
more with the thrill
of being held at the edge,
knowing there was not
a thing I could do to save
myself, nor was there any
real danger. God,
he was strong.
And big. And so full
of love. And play.
“Don’t fall in,”
he would say,
the release me.

The water always colder
than I’d want it to be.
I’d come up all splutter
and dripping, somewhere
between happiness
and surrender. I’d clamber
back up the old wooden ladder
and beg him to do it again.
What did I know then of falling?

It is not the falling that hurts.
It’s the landing that can be so awful.
Tear of skin, fracture of bone,
terrible thud of flesh. He taught me
the joy of falling when it ended
in a splash.

I come to tell Dad I’m falling.
This time it is by my own hand.
I am falling even now
at the table where we sit.
Falling through the water glass.
Falling through the words as they fall
from my lips. Falling through lies I told.

He offers me his thick fingers, his enormous palm,
still so much bigger than my own.
He reaches for me. I am falling.
He would catch me if he could.
What do I know of falling?
I fall right through his hands.

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