Posts Tagged ‘helplessness’


for Kayleen

As the tide rose and the waves grew nearer,
she took a stick and drew in the sand
a small labyrinth. In the center
she placed a dried tangle of roots,
some sodden gray feathers,
and the broken open shells of oysters.
White stone at the entrance.
Warm sun on our skin.
On the short path, we wrote with a stick
the names of people and places we longed to heal.
All around us the whirling of dark sea birds
seeking higher places to land.
All around us the sound of waves crashing on rocks,
sound of cliffs slowly eroding into sand.

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Emerging Self-Portrait

I know now myself as helpless—
helpless the way a rake
is helpless, helpless as knife, as needle,
as match, as pen is helpless.
I know what it is to not function,
despite potential, despite history.
I know how it is to lose all agency,
though once I could stitch,
could fix, could bring light.
I know can’t.
I know out of the question,
infeasible, undone, no-go.
Unable to speak. Unable to rise.
This was the moment when love arrived,
love with its ten thousand hands,
love with its perfect skeleton key
to enter every door of me.
Not that I asked.
Not that I deserved it.
Not that I said yes.
But love arrived on grief’s strong wings
and I, a sapped and broken thing,
began to know myself as free
dependent on a skillful hand,
began to trust as love turned me
toward what I most wished not to see,
began to feel myself as love.

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Because I cannot fix her heart,

I plant flowers in the two empty pots

on my mother’s high rise patio.

She’s always loved flowers around the house—

peonies and petunias in Wisconsin,

succulents and larkspur in Colorado.

She taught me when I was a girl

how to deadhead the plants

to produce more blooms,

how to make the snapdragon

open its reptilian mouth, how

to tell the story of Cinderella

by carefully dissecting the bleeding heart,

how to make touch me nots spit their seeds,

and how a few flowers around the home

bring immeasurable joy. And so

I pick out white and blue lobelia and

a soft gray vine and a hot pink begonia

and other flowers and vines I can’t name

and we sit on her patio together

in the late afternoon sun

and arrange the potted plants.

There is something about planting flowers

together that changes the way

you see the flowers—the same way

a soup tastes better when made

by someone who loves you—

and I thrill to think of her

looking out the window and seeing

the bright red geraniums surrounded

by purples and blues and greens

and thinking to herself, wow,

that girl really loves me, and

surely, surely, though it won’t

fix her heart, surely it will do some good,

those draping pink petunias

so familiar, so new.


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Because I can’t make things better,

I offer you tea. I am grateful when you accept.

The night holds us both

as we sit in the kitchen,

your voice a small boat

in an ocean of ache.


Because I can’t fix the problems,

I cover you with a blanket

when I see you are shivering,

though I know your shudders

have little to do with cold.

Still, it feels good when you pull

the white throw around you,

as if for the moment you’re protected.


I think of the Queen of Sheba,

how she learned to be grateful

for falling. How, in the dark,

she found her own light within,

then rose up and shared

this pearl with the world.


Because you are hurting,

I listen to you, would listen

all night, would listen all week.

I offer my whole attention.

And as you find in yourself

the light that is there,

I marvel as you marvel

at your own wisdom, your

own strength.

I listen. I nod.

I pour you tea.




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the deer beside the highway

struggling to stand on broken legs

has been dead four days

and still I try to think of ways

I might save it

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All day the mother
holds the ailing girl.
All day I imagine invisible
hands to hold
the mother,
to wipe her tears,
to lift her head
out of the darkness
of her own hands,
to guide her eyes
toward any small
beauty—a wisp
of laughter, a scrap
of sky. I imagine
for her a voice
that hums a soft hum
in her ear when she
is too disheartened
to pray. I imagine
a soft light that
might make the darkness
not quite so dark. I
put that soft light
inside her.

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