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Posts Tagged ‘mother’

Quarantine

 

 

This morning, my teenage boy and I

sit quiet on the couch. He does not move

to pick up his phone. I do not rise to work

or rush to make a meal. We sit, leaning

the trunks of our bodies into each other.

We do not say much. I close my eyes

and cherish his sapling weight.

There are so few people I dare now hug—

our hands, our bodies dangerous—

but here in this house so still I can almost

hear him growing, here in these minutes

that fell off the clock, here I remember

how surely we baptize each other with touch.

Such simple blessing. Silence. The metronome

of breath. The leaning in. Infectious love.

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My mother did not forge tech innovation,

didn’t win Olympic medals, didn’t write

a textbook on equal rights.

 

But she did run for office. And won.

She coached the soccer team so girls could play.

At church, she led the people from the pew.

 

And she started a company so my father

could leave his job. I don’t think

she thought of herself as an activist.

 

She’ll be surprised, perhaps, I see her this way—

as a leader, a role model, an example

of a gender equal world. Because of her,

 

I never felt less than. Because of her,

I could see myself as doctor, poet,

model, president. Because of her,

 

I know how to scratch my children’s heads

each night before sleep. How

to make up a song when life is too much.

 

How to cry for beauty and love.

How to notice and praise

what is right with the world.

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Allspice. Basil. Bay. Caraway. There were mornings

my boy and I spent on the floor pulling herbs and spices

from the drawer. We’d open the jars and close our eyes

and gently sniff. Cardamom. Cilantro. Cinnamon. Dill.

I took out the cayenne and red pepper flakes

and put them up high on an uppermost shelf.

Some agonies are easy to prevent.

We focused on Fennel. Fenugreek. Mint.

 

Today, he comes home having breathed in deeply

the scent of heartbreak, a jar I would have hidden if I could,

but all of us know it eventually, feel the burn, the inner sear.

Beyond safety, thyme, turmeric, there is fire, and once inhaled,

it hurts everywhere. Eventually we respect the heat as a gift.

Eventually the heart learns to walk through it.

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The rules are simple. One person chooses

an ornament on the tree. The others ask

yes/no questions until they guess it correctly.

It was my mother who taught me.

I taught my own children. It’s a ritual

as important as the tree itself. Is it red?

Is it round? Is it cloth? Handmade?

 

So many questions we never can answer.

So many questions elude yes or no. But here,

in the soft glow of Christmas tree lights,

we share moments when every question

leads us closer to a treasure, where

the moments are treasures themselves.

 

 

 

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Hundreds of smooth red stones—

we gathered them that summer

and spent days carefully laying them out

into a wide and winding red path.

It had no real starting point, no destination.

We tucked white daisies between the rocks.

We said it was for the fairies.

I wouldn’t have said it then, in fact,

I hesitate today to say we didn’t believe in them.

They gave us so much purpose.

Even now, I’m following that path.

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It surprises me she is fragile,

this woman who labored for eighteen hours

 

to birth me, this woman who cared for me

every time I was sick, who coached

 

my soccer team, who led my Girl Scout troupe.

This woman who went hunting and fishing

 

and still often comes home with the biggest

catch. This woman who walked ten miles

 

to raise money for hunger. This woman

who prays for everyone, everyone.

 

And so tonight when I walk her

to her room and she needs to stop

 

a moment to catch her breath,

I marvel at how human she is,

 

this woman who has been more

than human to me my whole life—

 

a super hero, a champion, a star.

And somehow, knowing this, and

 

understanding that it’s been true all along,

I fall even more deeply in love with her

 

as she leans back on the bed, lets out

a long sigh, closes her eyes, and smiles.

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First, you must weigh everything.

Precisely. The butter. The water.

The sugar, the salt. You must

catch the mixture just as it boils,

then add the flour, sifted and weighed.

You must set the timer to dry the dough,

must add the eggs slowly, must not

let it be too dry, too wet.

There’s more, my friends. The angle

of the pastry sleeve, must be 45 degrees.

You need to use the French star tip.

And then, you must not open the oven

lest the steam escapes and the eclairs

don’t crust. So many musts. So many dos.

And still they don’t always turn out.

 

It is not at all the way I love you. Though

sometimes I’ve tried to find the recipe.

Though sometimes I’ve wished it

were as easy as measuring well and using

a timer. I have wanted to do it right.

I have studiously wanted to make yours the best life.

 

But the only way to be a good lover

is to love. It has nothing to do

with following directions. Has

everything to do with the doing.

Like making choux pastry dough

together. Taking turns at the stove.

Reading the directions out loud to each other,

four times. And then watching the dough,

astonished as it goes from slimy to smooth

to something sturdy that shines.

 

 

 

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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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And as my mother steeped toward slumber,

her thin body wired to monitors,

there, surrounded by incessant beeping

and the red and green mountains and valleys

of pulse and pressure and the slow drip

of IV tubes finding her veins, yes,

there as her speech became mumbly and her

eye lids heavied, my father leaned over

the rails of the hospital bed to smooth

her gray hair and kiss her lips and whisper

I love you. And she rallied a smile and

whispered it back. And there, in the sterile room,

with all its instruments of cardiac measurement,

there was nothing, nothing that could chart

how open my heart, how—unable to hold

all the love I felt for them both—it broke

in the most beautiful way. How I prayed

it would stay that open, that broken, that whole.

 

**

Dear friends, thank you for all your good wishes. After having a heart surgery go wrong a few days ago, my mother was released today from the ICU and is now resting at home, and though she is not out of the woods yet, she is not in imminent danger. It’s been very scary and I thank you for all your thoughtful messages and prayers and thoughts. Rosemerry

 

 

*

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I wonder who else today

in Concourse A

is traveling to see their mom

in the hospital, who else

has a parent with a surgery

gone wrong? Who else

could use some tenderness—

perhaps that woman in green

on the transporter? Or maybe

the young mother chasing her child

on the moving walkway? Or

the middle-aged man deliberating

over snacks? Today, it seems

so obvious that all of us

need some tenderness—

regardless our story.

And so when the man

in 31 C offers to lift my suitcase

and fit it somehow

into the overhead bin,

I almost weep with relief,

but instead I smile and say

Thank you, yes, I need help.

All day, I think of how

one small generosity changes

the landscape of the heart.

All day, I am met with chances

to be grateful, to be kind.

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