My Mother’s Strength

to some she looks weak
underneath she’s tough as nails
mountains in her bones
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Why I want to be like my mother.

It was 10:06 pm in California
1:06 am in Vermont
When my father took his last breath

At around 1:25 I got a phone call
I knew it could only mean one thing
Especially when it was my mother
Sounding shaken
Refusing to tell me another word 
Until I gave myself a stress dose
Of dexamethasone

Remember: 
She had known my father
Since she was 15
She was now just barely 68
They’d been married for 50 years
Engaged for most of the other 3
They were best friends
And soulmates 
And had weathered
Some of the worst storms
A marriage with children can offer
And come out stronger for it

Knowing all that —
What does it say to you thatl
Less than half an hour 
After my father passed, 
She said:

“I know this kind of precision 
Means a lot to you
So I’m letting you know
Your father took his last breath
At exactly 10:06 pm.”

Her soulmate had just died
After months of her being his primary caregiver
At great risk to her own life and health
And she was thinking about
Whether I cared about precision or not

She’s the sort of person
Who always thinks about others
In ways I can only try and fail to emulate
I see her do it every time she interacts
And I don’t know how she does it

If I could wish for anything from my parents
It would be my father’s practical skills
His ability to do things with his hands
And it would be my mother’s social skills
Her ability to not only care, but show she cares
Even minutes after losing the love of her life

Return to sender: no longer at this address

My mother is a wizard with plants
I kind of knew it already
But when my father was upset
Because he'd never see the morning glories
Bloom again in his life
My mother secretly coaxed
A morning glory vine
Out of season
To bloom, and climb, to bloom, and climb
And she took him outside
To show him the magic she'd done
And that's how much my mother loves my dad

My flowers are my poetry
I coax the words to bloom and grow
And climb and climb into his heart
Even out of season
I use words to express the wordless
And that's one kind of magic I have
And that's how much I love my dad

But one of these days
I'm going to write a poem
It will be full of obscure mountain lakes
And treks across the mountains to the sea
And forest floors that were so much more
And owls hooting up in the trees
It will show him every place
That I could feel his love
Without the emotional bombardment
Of living in the city

And it will be a perfect poem
For that time and that place
It will certainly be better than this one
It will show him that I care for him
(As if he doesn't know by now)
It will show the depth of love
That death can dredge up when you're lucky

And then i will get a phone call or an email
It will start out:
“Go and take your dexamethasone right now.”
And I'll have a sinking feeling
But I'll take the syringe of steroids
And put it in my feeding tube
Then go back to the phone or the computer

Then they'll say
“The news is bad
Your father has passed away
He was far too tired this morning
To check your blog today.”

And all that's left of my magic
Will be words on a screen
Words he may have understood
But will never hope to read

From that point on forwards
We'll be separated by time
We both will have existed
But from that point in time onwards
I will be here and he won't

I wonder how much dexamethasone it takes
To avoid adrenal crisis when your dad dies
I wonder how much magical love it takes
To stand the pain you feel when you realize

That you will never talk to him again
You'll never hug him again
You'll never sit next to each other
With an elderly cat spread across your laps
You'll never ask the questions
You forgot to ask when he was alive
You'll never play with his beard again
And there's so little time
There's so little time

But I'm wrong
Like people are often wrong about time
Eternity is all around us
That's all the time in the world
Eternity is where love exists
Outside of time and space
So even if he never reads my best poems
He'll feel the love that went into them
Just as he feels the love
From that morning glory vine

He feels the love from his two pet dogs
He feels the love from his wife
He feels the love from his three adult children
He says he's lucky to be surrounded
By so much love

So I'm terribly sorry, Ron
If some of my poems don't reach you in time
And i'm terribly sorry Ron
If I try to Skype you and it turns out you're gone
Just know I love you more
Than even the best poet can convey
I love you more than I could ever say

And love is the magic that made my mom
Able to grow those morning glories
And love is the magic that makes me able
To write poems daily after years of dormancy
And love is the magic that connects you to me
It's the way we can feel each other's love
Without any form of contact at all

I hope the place I built for you outside of time
And filled to overflowing with my love
Will see you through

And I hope that I'll continue
Writing poetry to you
Long after you've gone

And I hope it reaches you in Eternity
Or wherever it is you're going

And I hope that even the worst of it
Conveys this message:

I love you
I love you
I love you

My Last Gift to My Parents

Father, your heart is like the sun
Shining on a granite mountainside
Your heart is like the pine trees
Growing up to the tree line
Your heart is like the Sierras
You were seldom absent from
And I know that's where your heart will rest
When your souls merge with the sun

Mother, your heart is like a garden
That grows wildflowers, vegetables side by side
A garden that can only be tended
By someone who knows the lay of the land
Your garden could even be mistaken
For a random flow of wild plants
If it weren't for the fact they're all chosen
For the birds and the bees and the fit of your hands

If you ever doubt that your eye for plants
Is the love that will see you through
Remember the morning glories
You enticed into bloom for a final view
He never thought he'd see one again
And I can bet he cried
When you led him outdoors
To the flowering vines
You had coaxed to climb up the wall

Your hearts have been growing inside each other
Since you were fifteen and twenty years old
My mother hiked in the Sierras
And my dad did some gardening of his own
That's what happens when you fall in love
For more than fifty years, with your hearts
Embracing, unwinding, unraveled, entwining
With all that time to germinate
Into something more than they were

Mine is the heart of a redwood forest
As if you hadn't noticed long ago
My body grew in my mothers womb
But my soul grew in the soil underground
And the redwood sorrel grew out the soil
And turned its leaves to the sun
And the sun sang a song so sweet and smooth
That the plants all stopped to hear
And they grew and they grew in their love
With every passing year
While underground the soil still did
The stuff of life and death and life again

You gave each other your hearts
Long before your marriage vows
And maybe you don't need to hear anything
I'm about to tell you now
But I'm holding up my redwood heart
And offering it to you
And you can plant if in your garden
And you can plant it in the Sierras
And because we are a family
It will.thrive in both locations

I offer you my redwood heart
Because it's all I have of any vaiue
Surely you both see by now
Love is the only thing that will bring us through
Love outside death
Love outside time
Love has meaning when nothing else does
Love conquers fear when nothing else will
Love is everything
Love is everywhere
So my last gift to you
My very last gift
Is my redwood forest heart

 

She Purred

She purred and purred her thoughts away
She purred them into her kittens every day
She purred her love
She purred her sacrifices
She purred her hunting techniques
She purred her hopes
She purred her fears
She purred her thoughts for their futures

She purred each kitten into being, into life
She purred each personality into place
So that once they got old enough
To grow into themselves
They would each grow into the person
That she knew they would best become

There was a little grey tabby girl
As fluffy as she was smart
She purred into that tabby girl
That she would have a heart
She purred that she’d be swift enough
To outrun unwanted toms
She purred that she’d be smart enough
To share her kittens with any mom
She purred that she’d be fierce
A protector of kittens and humans alike
She purred and she purred and she purred

There was a little black boy
Whose coat was short and sleek
She purred into that little black boy
That he’d be kind and meek
She purred that he’d be loving
That he’d always make friends
She purred that he’d be caring
Always ready to make amends
She purred that he’d be socially skilled
The glue that held the family together
And she purred and she purred and she purred

There was a little calico girl
As agile as can be
She purred in some more agility
So she’d never fall from a tree
She purred into her curiosity
With just the right measure of fear
She purred mechanical ability
So she’d try to work out what turns a gear
She purred that she’d alway wonder
What made the world turn
And she purred and she purred and she purred

There was fluffy black tuxedo girl
Who had a heart of amber and molten lava
She purred into her liquid sunlight
Just to make her light even brighter
She purred into her wisdom
So her instincts would lead her right
She purred into her excellent eyes
So she could see in the blackest of nights
She purred into her charisma
So that other cats would heed her warnings
She purred, she purred, she purred till morning

And if you could ask her
She’d say
“I took what was already there.
I purred a little here
And I purred a little there.
I gave them nothing they didn’t already have
I just purred more into their strengths
And I purred less into their faults
Except when they needed their faults
Then I purred a little there, too.
I purred them songs in their sleep
I purred them stories as they nursed
I purred them complicated Cattish rhythms
That only a cat understands”

And then the kittens started purring back
They purred to their mother
And they purred to each other
And their purrs got more complex every day
And they blended with each other
And they blended with their mother
Until all their purrs were a giant harmony

And the little grey tabby grew into
A fierce and shrewd mother
And the sleek black boy grew into
The heart of the littermates’ family
And the little calico grew into
A feline engineer
And the black tuxedo girl grew into
A visionary cat

And they all loved each other
And they all had respect
For the roles their mother purred
Into their hearts
And they all slept together in a pile
And they purred
And they purred
And the purrs melded together
In perfect rhythm and harmony
As if they were designed that way
And they purred complicated Cattish rhythms
That only a Cat can understand
And they purred and they purred and they purred