Looking For You, Finding Me
My daughter, Michelle, died when she was 8, years ago. It has taken me a long time and many moods and stages to get to this year, this day, this book. Most of the poems within these chapters were written within a period of 30 years, especially during her birth month, October and death month, February. It is my hope that these poems will help others ... they have certainly helped me. I was young when she died and could hardly feel alive without her.
Mourning is complicated, and yet, most people go through similar stages of grief. When Michelle died, I had no idea what to do or how to feel. I just wanted Michelle back, was angry at God, and buried in depression and denial. At the time, no one suggested counseling; in fact, I was married to a psychologist. He mourned, by leaving the relationship and the place that was filled with memory. I understand many things now, including that, and feel that her short life was the birth-place of a knowledge and peace that I would never have had, had she lived. I am most grateful to her for that gift.
It is my belief that she and I agreed on this before either of us were born into this life. As souls we committed to the way it happened. She sure kept her part, and I am finally learning my own.
Looking for You, Finding Me
Trying to find you
when the sky sends warmth
and all the scattered down clouds
have gone to other grief,
to be sleeveless
and skip into your place in time
with a smile,
is not about looking for you,
but about finding me.
The Innocence of Motion
He was fast on skates;
turning like the wind he knocked down
my shyly paperback book.
He found my eyes hiding there,
and told me something with his cool
that made me think of bad weather.
Somehow, I must have known
that the treacherous path he walked
held the seed, for I saw the photo
of the way his child
would take his beauty
and claim it with the eyes of a beloved animal
with skin of autumn leaking into the trees.
I was only a vessel afterall.
He was fast forward, not gradual as was my want,
but hard of mouth as he listened to me sing my hymn.
In the choir of my heart I watched his chill
and pretended it was not a virus I could catch,
not one that would bed me to cold
or so quickly bring life into my changing.
A stone is thrown into the pool
and becomes something more.
That small seed of his nonchalance
became a liquid web, like music shaped by reflection,
the innocence of motion fell up, not down
and became Michelle.
When I was Beautiful
It was in autumn
that I became beautiful,
just weeks before my first birthing
when I was weighted with a light,
bright as nodding sunflowers
before a blue sky.
Bitter, bitter the brine
of that conception,
yet, it made my mirror glow
with reason, life, not seed now flown.
Just remembering that swell,
all front curled and stretching skin,
full breasted loving cups begin.
Oh, we turned heads as I walked,
the sway of me saying, look,
look what a miracle life begot.
Even though I was alone in my joy,
the beauty of his face grew within me;
his skin, the color of dusk,
his eyes, damp dirt's liquid hurt.
I had never felt so alive,
though I cried bitterly between minutes
and slept-awake, with each kick
beating my face into bloomed roses.
With falling leaf and changing,
I wear the memory of her slide and cry,
and see the way her dusty skin was red with power,
her eyes the color of cherry stones.
I know I never loved before that time,
and will never love again quite that way,
the way I did just before her birth
when I was beautiful.
Just a Little Light
I was too young to be
a baby slung across my hip,
this child that came to me
from the land of careless,
from the place where skin has magic.
Magic, so easily planted a seed
that curled around my heart,
then squeezed joy into all my places,
wonder of wonder, this life.
I thought I couldn't
take care of so much urgency,
and so I searched for answers
from unlikely places,
and oh, how I messed up,
seeing through my need,
falling into comfortable
as if it would hold me.
How could I be big enough
or capture enough wisdom
to give depth to this infant
that twirled around my life
with questions that I couldn't answer?
All around there were songs
that I didn't hear
as I danced to quiet a baby's cry,
I danced with monsters that would scream
and sang to steady the ache.
Then one day,
after the sky had melted
and rained all its bitter truth,
after the umbilical cord was stretched
and tied my whole life up with balloons,
I saw where peace was planted.
Of course, it had been there all the time,
peace waits so patiently,
because it takes so long to see
that bright bulb's hidden treasure
just needs a little light.
Shake Your Pretty Head
She will ride on cape that twists the road
away from the sulk of afternoon
into the steady healing flow of river's turn
a fish a day to earn and slippery
to pull from mouth the hook of bravery
hunger will release the fill
then drown in water anyway up hill
I am falling up to land within her net
the sky is scattered dun of blue
my whim is to fly of course but wings forget
wings where have you gone to reed and river's force
the tide of air has made a road in sky to ride
the cattails grim turn aside their load and I
look for the smudge of some creek be gone now
loaded with the heavy weight of it I sink not fly
Shake your pretty head release the dead
walk the rocky hill across the nape of twilight
she tells me from the other side
coming now to fish the outcrop of rock for gold
a child will see a reflection crosses the deep
and sways this rhythm of water's keep
to love like jumping rocks is not forgotten
the bounty of a sweet clasped foot
naked cannot slip within the torrent past
for the trickle of a summer shower still remains
singing the quiet hours of day away
A Conversation with Michelle
when you took my hand
and led me up that path
where your imaginary friends lived?
You called them names
that came from birth of language,
those names ancient and preserved
that were always there
inside your head when you were two;
yet still walking across the meadow
in your third year,
rolling with the dogs in shadowed sun.
I know them still.
You let me see them light up your face
while I listened to your
Your brown eyes crinkled
when I saw you before the laugh
filling up, and then when the sun
hit your hair the light was so radiant
that my breath would catch.
You shed your clothes
like a nuisance that was not part
of the feel of the air against your skin.
The fabric of dog fur and porch railings,
brought joy to your round belly
and sturdy brown legs.
Once, when I caught you looking
out the screen door at twilight
in naked silhouette,
the first coyote barked
his hunger into the canyon
and the dogs clamored around you
sniffing the air ...
and something in you
was wise and wonderful and wild, too.
You threw your cares down
with passionate howls and said
you wished you were dead
and I wondered what dark storm
took you so violently from sweet,
when there was so much love for you
and so much wonder to life.
In your pink flannels, with your cheeks
flaming and so much bravery,
you found the jumping running grass
and glee became you with magic.
You touched me with the listening of an old soul,
then folded me in your small arm's embrace,
knowing when I was sad.
Did you already know that one day soon
I would weep for the loss of you?
You struggled with the sanity
of the children that tormented you
with their pulled-back friendships;
for schools and neighborhoods
were outside your imagination's control.
You drew cats and dogs from far and wide
to our doorstep, with some inner whistle
that took in lost and lonely things.
In your eight years you took me
and rearranged all my feelings
and then threw them up, like feathers
to dance around you;
then you were gone,
you were no longer a breath,
and it was like your mother
went with you and what was left
was only part of me,
Pieces of Eight
You told me water was your friend,
naked and brown
your hair filled with fire,
your eyes made from brown mischief,
all the kitchen pans
in the tub with you.
And it was.
Your blanket had a name
and was constant companion to your fear,
dragged behind you through rooms
across the place of dreams,
shredded and covered with stories
that you had no time to tell.
From the magic place
you learned secrets
of how to talk to animals,
where to find the beginning of a path,
how to write backwards and upside down
a name.....your name.
You scratched out a quiz with each breath,
asking why, and why then why again;
until even the answers grew questions
and I caught your curiosity
to hold revered and fragile
with your glaze and turn of cheek.
Sing it again mommy,
read to me, tell me a story of how,
listen to the sound the sunset makes
tell me again about why
the coyote knows me
and cries my name across the years.
Tell me, sing me why we die,
and I'll tell you what infinity is;
it is the end and a beginning,
it is eight years old.
In Spring there will be Wild Flower
Today we scatter run the breeze
with black flecks of life
in a box of sun and seed.
The grandchildren stir the air,
while all the time
Michelle is watching, there.
Sitting by the pond
and throwing rocks with a plop,
is a sound drugged
with water splatter-dropped.
What would you call this need to toss,
larger and larger rocks into the froth?
With sun on face with warmth, abide the day.
October brings to river living gifts that stay;
and the sound of riffled water is a touching start
that runs her beginning again within my heart.
Watch the way the ripples speak her name
saying how forever, love is still the same,
out they pass along the cliff and far,
never ending circles of love, just are.
You Leave Me With Permanence
Did you see that clear line
following the curve of the mountain
where the sky touches?
I did too, and this,
a love song, tide to its timber
as the leaves danced to get my attention.
And so I bundled my shoulders in flannel,
turned my heart to the north
and saw you there, a child again;
dressed in those long stockings,
your black leather shoes almost touching
the hem of your special red velvet dress,
(this must be special).
I could have sworn that I covered it,
wrapped it tight with tissue
and snuggled it next to my wedding dress.
It's in the captain's chest, I went to look,
knowing you must know how
fabric lives and lives
while people die,
for you were wise even then.
I remember your warm skin.
Now that you know the answers
to all the questions that I have asked,
there you are, not a shadow, no,
but a torch in bright, look at me smile,
galloping across the mountain top
where your ashes feathered and fell,
more years, more years to add of memory, ago.
I want you to know that you have taught me
about listening and patience,
(you were never good at either then)
and as I watch you blow out
like a candle flame on this windy day,
time takes me past the mountain
to the heart of where you really live
and there, you leave me with permanence.
I read there was a miracle child;
undead, I saw her smile from the newsprint.
The way her dark hair curled
was so familiar, as if time moved backwards
and changed everything.
I know there were screams
that rained on her spring
with no sound,
her heart slowing to almost stop,
again and again,
and sleep far deeper than night.
I heard them in that other time,
the one where daughters do die.
I also knew
that those who loved her must have wished
her free of life
in their secret souls,
and lost hope to weight
that crushed inside
till death was in their eyes.
But this girl lived ...
I saw it in the newsprint.
through the scream,
the unimagined soundless terror,
and found her way
to a breath that lived.
My own gamine girl
took to death so quickly
that same year,
that same spring,
holding the same soundless scream
Oh, I want to be the mother
of a miracle child,
Welcome to my life this day is blue
and I have cried a time or two
since last we met together on this path
where snow lays grounded in small patches tease
and pleases the dappled light in me
Don't try to trip me into falling dark
I am most sure and filled with light
even in the night I dream of lavender wings
and feel the lash of mountain rain
I have taken a step forward you see
from blaming you for the pain of loss
I've shown my sorrow this month each year
and February you were the tear
forgive me for my open wound
A remedy for death I've asked
as if the beginning never had an end
and I could pretend to stop the flow of time
or go back and start again
How about this dear friend
I let February be glad now
don't argue that you are bad
I myself will lift the sad
and let you see new flow within my streams
to loosen the ache from all my February dreams
Not because I have forgotten Michelle
but because I choose to remember her
all the time
hello above I think you are
all around that star
can't say that I've not looked away
but I used to be Sunday's child
licking that gold star beside my name in school
and every night I laid me down
what was that I didn't know
but didn't want to die before I woke
forsaken ... no no
I've been wondering about that angel
I called Michelle
you know she was special she was
most for me a first big love
and my prayer was big that day
I know I'd faltered earlier and now I was in need
all of a sudden I asked
is that greed
to take a child who was loved so dear
this tear is all you gave to me in answer
and still I ask
how is this plan worked out
I don't mean any disrespect
and I'm sure you know my heart is good
and believes in love and brotherhood
and I appreciate all the little things you made
for me to touch and see and love
and I know one day beyond this time
sense will make of me some semblance
of what this time spent is meant to be
until then just one other thing
for peace on earth goodwill to men
could we get some help with that
Leaning to Walk Again
Learning to Walk Again
One straight burnt trunk
Still finds the sky
A spirit's walking stick
It casts a shadow
So do I
All along the edge of night
she silent slips with ancient ways
with toss of head sends mauve to dark
this art work is the sky and more
belabor not the trust she has
that turn of hand can bring sun down
Come February now the time of mourn
she stops to ponder not warn or wasted
the color of the way it feels
to leave beloved hills to stay
forever with the mist that tears have made
She knows this space from every year
has come to feel the callus it has wept
and contemplate the ways to pull the paint
to make a backdrop compliment the grief
and some relief the beauty caught define
like sweet memory of sun in shine of hair
The time is near now she can feel the strain
though it remains eclipsed the brightness fades
then opens new a page that's filled with days
so turning now she sets the sun in clay
to bend forever February into love again
I Talk to the Woods Denuded
I talk to the woods denuded
not pine or cone just black stark trunks illusion
grants me foot within
the wandering of my spirit
to see small grasses mostly weed though sweet
and tufts of rocks that fall into the clearing
like a memorial of what used to be
to cover the char that once was tree
I picture the woman she would be
on curve of time this road I take
to bring her sharper to my senses
with long brown hair by sun made to flame
and eyes the color of a wooded glen
stem brown skin and toes mostly open
from barefooted time that she would spend
I remember her love for wild and free
the sound of coyote almost cock of head
to hear from back yard pass the curl of scent
that travels bent within the nape of years
from someplace beyond this single web
she was open this way in her life as now when dead
and that is why this trail is not of sorrow
but hallow in the path it takes to certain sure
to find the lifting up of missing her is born
from a life never forsaken always worn and mostly now
is any month when she stopped as winter became real
I feel her keen within continuations cycle
for every sigh I lift she with love heals
The Ashes Fall Up
the sky is humming with flying vessels
they coat the creases where the sycamore waved
a sky now nestles with soot of tinder
the air is full of your remains
they say at night a fire lays down
it has lain down for days
ashes surround a small green thing that starts
then two and I think oh how I miss you
your sweet swollen brown eyes
filled now with ash and blown around
this wind takes it all and makes a fire again
the sky is the color of a tomb
and from the room the moan is calling
to the moon
where oh where is the pretty place
where tears could weep clean
and fall without making prints on face
I have left you so many times
pushing you from my womb the first
oh how you voiced my minutes then
with lines that were so simply made of love began
when will I be through with missing you
The ashes fall up
I breathe them in and wipe them from my eyes
before I realize they could be you
Where you nested
my heart grows lithe,
as with my own whim
I've flown away from solitude
and found breach of delight within.
I can't love you into stillness,
like rain you come refreshed
as I weep for what was ravaged
I keep the harvest's goal,
Oh, significant wonder,
girl's gone beautiful soul.
I can gently part the curtain now
on what I thought that I should dread,
and find in truth a grace amazed
by my own light, wavy threads.
I have no doubt my sigh and cry
weighed heavy on your placement
with time's perfect patience,
so I threw them in the brier
I thought I held for you
to soften a girl's bad dream come true.
To question is my degree,
so I ask miraculously
significant wonder touching grace,
and though flesh is an unworthy tool,
I see you smiling in my face.
I see the pages turn,
hear the sound of paper,
know the end has such integrity
that I want to skip a page or two
to see what happens later.
Keep well, this home of heart
has been growing from the start
from a chain anchoring one into the other,
where there is no end to the devotion
from you, my daughter
forever in the lasting of me, your mother.
Could I but see the distance
plague the stone so I could fly,
curiosity would lick the slurry
until the sap in me was dry.
So, my love I have a feeling
on the page that says, the end,
when I've eaten the apple to the core
there'll be a light in me, not dim,
that still will want for more.
February 21, Every Year
February 21, every year,
I feel you tap on my shoulder of memory
as you emerge from hibernation.
"Look," you say,
"I am swept under the heartbeat
of memory, sleeping;
covered by hours, then by days,
finally by years, until my laughter
fades from your memory
and the sound of my voice
"I am only noticed
when February cuts into
or in my picture
one-sided and posed."
"You look for me
across the mountain top,
as if my ashes are what
seed the ground and I can feel
the pilgrimage of your feet
upon my soul."
"Don't you know
that your heart's beat is me,
and the ache within your womb?
In the full, blue-veined
breast of remembering
is where you can find me,
and I will always be there?"
"Trust your tears."
The Back door
Just a bit of bloody down
and the pounding of a heart,
a willow wind
that's gone wing
with message, silent, sing.
The magic weeping of a forest;
see, I am full of trees,
their naked branches are caught
in the charring of a thought.
I cannot weep anymore;
this memory is too sweet to cry,
a song is there in feather's flight,
born of time and mine to keep.
There is no end to love.
I thought there was an end to grief;
but found again the loss of light
from a gift that had no flight.
Like a movie played again,
death stole the final clinch,
but left the grief and also joy
and the everlastingness.
Just a bit of bloody down
and the pounding of a heart,
a willow wind
that's gone wings
with message, silent, sing.
Swallowing The Cross
Swallowing the cross
from the mud and muck of loss
I scratch the surface of victory
and regain my warmth by tenacity
I can't sing this dirge again
with the peach tree blooming finally
wanting her to be proud of me
after being lost in the capture of a shadow
keeping me from finding any ally
again and again I've been hit by the fever
of trying to place my spirit into eager
The way I remember it was just open
and out it comes with the first minute
not laying claim to anything broken
but I can't find it now spoken even
and somehow laying down in the sun
is easier then standing up in the rain
Needing to be washed to clean again
I try to stain my skin with a blossom
and find instead the molding petals
rotten swimming in the mulch of days
hidden wrinkled within the keep
of how many ways are there to remember
and the rain is not to blame
Each year I've waited for February
as if a tree could lift the shroud
with the joy of peach blossom's tears
made of pink love and eight years
Now in spring a time of metamorphosis
I am singing to the fruit instead
though pale beneath the other trees
it allows me to see the bravery
of tasting the juice of change
nudging this truth from winter gone
that love like seasons always remains
A Roller in the Grass of Playful
I'm thinking of you Michelle
warming past the tree
where we frolicked with the day
memory takes me to that hill
All the year I've worn my heart
in comfort drawn to wait
the times that bring you near
just not expecting now and so dear
But here you are wrapping around my years
growing with me not tears
but moments spent in learning trees
and little pieces of poured cement
with your name that lasts
it's just not fair how living
can't be cast
The dog's bark is for you too
and the jasmine hanging on the fence by me
a roller in the grass of playful came to be
itched with laughter until the tears were only mine
So this day I know you see the pool we built
the year you died
as if to hide in the joyous splash
your brothers made into what was a hill
where dogs remarked
I miss the way your gleeful filled the day
and colored the empty place in me with play
Like a feather it drifted across the currents
born of February
just one small ash
a piece of bone perhaps
torn from the door in splendid flow
atop a mountain wave
I watched from the ground on a blue day
wrenched with her presence still
as I had shopped and bought her favorites
my heart on automatic
forgetting she was no longer
Her dresses hung from one shoulder
tilted in the closet
and the precious pieces of her haunted
the floor in taciturn
where I slipped on them but could not bare
to close the door no
Years clicked past like telephone poles
in a sleepy child's watch
then today I went with frame of mind
all tucked and worn each year to fine wood
but worried that her ash had burned again
in a mountain that blazed to look like elephant's back
the trees like tiny hairs across the top
it looked like that
twenty-eight years ago she could have landed
in a dappled current and flowed like my heart
to the sea
forever and always no matter
she is like dappled light
burned in many places
mostly though in me
The Weight of the Butterfly Flower
The flowering peach,
a daughter's bloom;
each February she lived
in tiny pink bud.
Her tree fed my memory
and flitted across my vision
with nectar so sweet with sorrow
that the sky wept pink.
the delicate butterfly flower held.
It took her place somehow
and lived for her each year;
a tree-gift from the fluttering
girls and boys of second grade,
now almost middle aged
with children named
She will always be eight, to me,
the bright and moving child
of my youth,
so spark and full of fire,
the first that captured my heart,
she holds it still.
She died again last fall, Michelle,
as her leaves turned and bid a final
tremble to the ground.
The tree no longer lived;
its gamine trunk so stark and bleak
was a sentinel to the truth
that all things die.
under the canopy that burned
my heart again,
from brown and rotting leaves
has emerged proof of the everlasting
circle of creation,
a fragile new beginning
green and growing.
Michelle sleeps now
and has for years,
her features cloudy
with just the slightest trace of light
where her brown hair curled ...
but I see her yearly
when the peach tree blooms,
No Straight Lines in a Memory
I can close my eyes
and feel the silk of her hair ...
plaited by my patience.
See how the part is crooked in the back?
There are no straight lines in a memory;
but I swear there is a scar
where her brown eyes lingered
true and straight while daring the brush.
Watch me, she says to my memory.
I can make my hair dance.
She turns around and then again,
caught in the air of time;
her hair, a rope or a bridge,
to her belligerent smile.
A Box of Things on Sunday Morning
So many years
have come and gone
that the memory is lost
covered by a blue blanket
tattered and torn in a box of things
Did she like cereal on hurried mornings
or bacon with eggs scrambled
to hide the runny part
from looking too much like yellow blood
I question my remembering
I've lost her in my own meandering
where I grew up and passed
with its yes or no answer
to life or death when
to choose seemed so simple
Had she lived
she would be forty-two years
not 8 not 8 not 8 not 8
twisting in on itself again and again
like candles on a cake-less cake
It's her birthday
but I can't find her
tattered and torn box of things
this Sunday morning
Darling daughter of my heart
open is the cage that kept me locked
notice how my freedom is your door
ever in my heart needs nothing more
February is gone now,
with her quick, clean lines
and tilting globe of determined sky.
She hung her skirt out wantonly
on the naked open neighborhood,
dark with clouds and pink with dawn,
I listened as her tongue licked trees.
No need for solace in her rain,
my weeping chalice is gone,
where winter skies and dappled roads
flush the aching river in me
to the sea.
A tree was made so love could stay
and blossoms gamely on that day
with pink peach petals weeping down
where tears have not an opening found.
February is gone now,
with her quick, clean lines
and tilting globe of determined sky.