Watching My Daughter Through the One Way Mirror of a Preschool Observation Room
Maggie’s finishing a portrait
of our family, gluing googly eyes
…………onto a stately stick figure
I hope is me. Now she doesn’t know
who to play with, as other kids,
fall down. She wears my face
superimposed. I almost tap
…………the glass, point her toward
the boy with yellow trucks.
Lost, she stares out the classroom window
…………toward snow-humped pines
beyond the playground.
When I’m dead, I hope there’ll be a thin pane
…………such as this between us. I’ll stand forever
out in the dark to watch my grown children
move through their bright rooms.
…………Maybe just once they’ll cup
their hands against the glass, caught
by some flicker or glint,
…………a slant of light touching their faces.
My Father Watches His Daughter Taken Away
You stand alone at the church lobby window.
Away from chatter and condolences,
your jaw hung open, your lip quivers
as you watch pallbearers carry her coffin,
stare at the long ascent up the ramp.
They lift her into the hearse, then
the back door slams the bright day shut.
You watch it pull away. Across the lobby
my daughter tugs my sleeve. Your arm lifts
as if you’ll wave, still looking outside
where now your daughter walks
toward you at ten years old, holding
her silver uprooted tree of an IV,
its tubes dragging along the cement
as in her sewn heart a grafted valve
takes root. Now she’s gone. So you turn
toward the rest of us, your furrowed palm
pressed against your chest. The way
we take our vows. The way we fill
the holes we make in the earth.
On the porch at dawn I watch
my childrens’ commingled curls
wander toward my feet,
tumbleweeds in a coming storm’s
unsettled air. Last evening they each
stood here wearing a black plastic bag,
their heads poked through the ripped
neck hole, as my wife snipped at bangs,
her trimmings making scrunched noses itch.
I should get the broom to whisk these tufts
into a bag—she likes to keep their hair.
But I watch them drift instead, these
little nests of them we left and cannot bear.
The wind will take what we forget
to sweep. And cannot keep.
A Consideration of Potential Afterlives and the Ontological Interrelations of All Beings at Bedtime, or, The Ladybug Friend
At the threshold of his bedroom, Gabriel stops
mid-skip and kneels, caught by some speck
on his floor: yesterday’s ladybug friend
who’d spun and leapt on a spear of grass
he kept in a cup bedside, now stuck stone still,
legs-up and half-crushed. At four, it’s all first
a matter of science; he leans like a mechanic
over a hood, inspecting this insect’s dead engine,
detached. But within thirty seconds, it’s instant
crime scene and trial, and I’m his prime suspect,
a slackjawed man of large feet and lumbering
who seems eerily indifferent to this leering judge,
handing him his toothbrush like a dagger.
Any one of us might’ve stepped on it, the bug, on her,
I mean…my paltry defense begins,
though my judge, already a quivering heap
of tears and hurled whys, curls up beside
ladybug friend, sighing her name as he sobs.
Seeing after several minutes this is no toddler drama
but true grief, that we’ve walked smack into
our first real lesson on dying, I shift back and forth
for the next hour: from indicted murderer to counselor,
from arbiter in an act-of-god case to source of all solace.
Ultimately, I’m some salesman pitching glowing
afterlives I haven’t even bought myself.
He collapses into my arms, sniffling,
as I spread a rainbow of spiritual swatches before him:
She must be in a happier place now, I begin,
offering up a tinkling shade.
Adding a sunrise tincture: Gabe, your ladybug
was a good friend, I’m sure her spirit’s
doing fine now. Don’t worry, I say then, turning
to fruit tree hues: she’ll probably land
on your sleeve this spring. Maybe she’ll
become a bird. Later, I proffer a deep rose tone:
she lived a good life and is probably higher
in the sky then she’s ever flown. His grief
ceaseless, my spectrum nearly spent, I try
an earth tone: Let’s remember to love each other
as much as we loved ladybug friend.
Still no deal, I reach for sheer enamel:
Let’s enjoy this moment we share here and now
with each other. But that only opens into
another empty space, as he then draws a wobbled line
from the black dot of ladybug friend to his dead aunt,
my sister, gone only a handful of months.
Is Aunt Amy with ladybug friend, then, too? He asks,
seeing through all of my pitches and easy patches,
staring at me, waiting for a real answer.
At that point I reach the blank page, a place no paint
or creed holds. He has thrown open every curtain
to find his father, dumb backstage wizard,
a fool in tears on the edge of his bed.
When I manage to speak again, I say to my son:
The truth is, no one really knows where she’s gone.
For a long time we hold each other, staring at nothing.
In the end, we lift what’s left of the ladybug onto a tissue,
lay it on his nightstand. He hands me a yellow marker,
dictates the eulogy he wants written beneath her:
We love you. Please come back.
After Yelling at My Children
Rip this worm tongue
from my mouth.
Drop it into the sea.
Dig your razor beak
into my heart. Pluck
the glinting slivers.
Smash my teeth
with rocks. Swing me
from the stone ball
of my voice.
Make me watch
again and again
their bright faces
wilting. Let me open
their curled fingers
while they sleep.
Let me blow
the ashes of my words
from their palms.
Let me kiss
their dreaming eyes.
Let them forget.
Let me walk tonight
into the burned fields
with one million bulbs.
Let me turn the earth.
Let me bend
to my rows
of planted light.
Let me tend to the work.
All poems from Our Sudden Museum (Salmon Press, 2017).