12 years ago today, my mom died. My memory of how terribly difficult it was to lose her over 4 years from diagnosis to death has faded some. Or maybe it has just become such a part of me that I hardly notice it –a thickening of my skin, a callus? But even as I’m (too) used to the loss, the grief is there. It shows up in my poems, and in many of the poems I choose to spend time with. On the anniversary of her death, I’m using this space to archive a few of those poems as a way to remember her.
WAVES/ Sara Lynne Puotinen (a draft)
The waves will come my
tells us. Let them come
let them wash over
you let them recede
return know they’ll leave
don’t care they’ll be back.
avoid unwise to
fight learn to accept
find ways to endure
their intensity. When
my mom died it came
up a lot from those
already on the
other side. They warned
about the sudden
rush being over-
taken swept under
consumed. Not always unwanted sometimes
desired better than
the alternative —
nothing stretched far flat. At
my first open swim
waves scare me choppywater whitecaps swells
hard to breathe a loss
of control but soon
I become used to
them and one summer
I decide I like
the way water rocks
me rushes over
and into me. Rough
as a spin cycle
gentle as a cradle
a chance to fight back
or surrender be
scrubbed clean jolted to
life able to hit
a wall and not fall
apart gain strength lose
weight — bearings burdens —
as I swim from one
side to the other.
I wrote this poem this September as part of a series inspired by open swimming. The series is tentatively titled, Every Five, and is made up of five syllable lines which mimic my swim stroke rhythms (every five strokes, I take a breath).
The idea of grief being a different shore, on the other side of the water — either lake nokomis or the misssissippi river — comes up in my writing a lot. This morning (I’m writing this on Oct 1), I encountered a W.S. Merwin poem that invokes sides too. Having only read it a few times, I’m not sure I fully understand what his words mean, but I want to remember his poem and place it next to my words linking death and other sides/shores.
Travelling Together/ W.S. Merwin
If we are separated I will
try to wait for you
on your side of things
your side of the wall and the water
and of the light moving at its own speed
even on leaves that we have seen
I will wait on one side
while a side is there
And here is one of my earlier poems, written 4 years ago, for a class on poetic forms. This one was for the week on elegies.
On the occasion of my mom’s 75th birthday/ Sara Lynne Puotinen
I wanted to take her on my run.
I wanted her beside me
as I traveled on the bluff
above the Mississippi.
To talk about the trees or
the poetry class I was taking or
what she was weaving on her loom or
where to plant zinnias in my backyard or
the latest book about history she was reading or
the wildflowers she knew the names of but I didn’t or
when the Real Housewives would stop being a thing or
why you can’t find a decent pair of jeans that aren’t skinny or
how it was to be seventy-five when you always feel 17. But
8 years now.
I can’t spare
The most I
she’s the shadow
A few months ago running
south on the river road I thought
I saw her coming towards me—at
least the her I like to remember—mid
50s short reddish hair (before she started dyeing
it blonde to hide the gray) teal shorts muscular legs
jogging so slow she is almost walking. I know it isn’t
her but for less than a minute I allow myself to believe my
mom is still alive never diagnosed with a death sentence
never not running or walking or breathing. Then I remember
if those things
mainly the breathing—
I might not
running or writing
to reshape my grief.
Who would I be
without my grief?
Someone else. Someone
whose Mom is still alive but
maybe not someone who loves
to run or someone who is writing a poem
for their dead mom on the occasion of her 75th birthday.
I was thinking about my poem and my desire to walk or run by the gorge with my mom as I read this poem:
Miss you. Would like to take a walk with you./ GABRIELLE CALVOCORESSI
Do not care if you just arrive in your skeleton.
Would love to take a walk with you. Miss you.
Would love to make you shrimp saganaki.
Like you used to make me when you were alive.
Love to feed you. Sit over steaming
bowls of pilaf. Little roasted tomatoes
covered in pepper and nutmeg. Miss you.
Would love to walk to the post office with you.
Bring the ghost dog. We’ll walk past the waterfall
and you can tell me about the after.
Wish you. Wish you would come back for a while.
Don’t even need to bring your skin sack. I’ll know
you. I know you will know me even though. I’m
bigger now. Grayer. I’ll show you my garden.
I’d like to hop in the leaf pile you raked but if you
want to jump in? I’ll rake it for you. Miss you
standing looking out at the river with your rake
in your hand. Miss you in your puffy blue jacket.
They’re hip now. I can bring you a new one
if you’ll only come by. Know I told you
it was okay to go. Know I told you
it was okay to leave me. Why’d you believe me?
You always believed me. Wish you would
come back so we could talk about truth.
Miss you. Wish you would walk through my
door. Stare out from the mirror. Come through
Wow, what a poem? “Stare out from the mirror. Come through/the pipes.”
And here’s one more:
Profit/Loss Statement/ Harlan Bjornstad
In beautiful, spacious September,
When pears in their boxes were golden and full,
We laid her ashes in the Minnesota earth.
Two years on, September still tastes a little like ashes.
Though pears, I have noticed, have decidedly sweetened,
And a number of trademark routines in this ambivalent month—
Say, walking the woods shifting to the red end of the spectrum
Or hearing the home crowd cheer at the homecoming game—
Have flared into a new expository grace.
Despite, or because of, her death?
It seems too cruel to say.