Childhood Home

The place remains in my dreams
like a movie set preserved…

Have assigned each room
a critique – disclosed the crimes

Yet, it remains, like a beacon
draws me to it, begs reflection

What if I could go back
now that I can breathe

Now that I’ve laid claim to maturity;
would I discover a sudden windfall?

Makeover conditioned motifs;
reevaluate ceiling heights?

With resources to remodel
heart open, connected

might I uncover abundance
like a personal embrace.

(Childhood Home first appeared May, 2020. Image my own)

They’re Just Family, After All

In anticipation of guests,
the hostess – always bent
on pleasing – carefully selects
the script, ascribes roles,
envisions an afternoon
of light repartee, peppered
with philosophical pondering –
satisfactory entertainment.

They’re just family, after all,
she tells herself, confident
in the outcome, fatally smug.

Crowd arriving, she fails
to read disinterest in eyes,
politely attempts to orchestrate
interactions, while they cast about,
calculating, shunning protocols
of etiquette, dispersing in
an unsettling way, then returning,
savagely encircling their prey.

They’re just family, after all,
she tells herself, panic rising,
confusion overriding confidence.

Unprepared to defend herself –
bears no arms but the giving type –
she ducks, grasps, attempts
retreat from the onslaught
of vindictive agendas, but the wall
of stored grievances, spotlighting
a history of injustices, corners
her, hopelessness in its wake.

They’re just family, after all,
she tells herself, knowing
full well the legacy of pain.

It’s friends, in the end,
who save her – a surefooted
cavalry, bearing the swords of
understanding, compassion
their war cry – reigning in the
once-invited, now betraying
guests – objective hearts
demanding an end to the fray.

They’re just family, after all,
she tells them, tells herself,
composure a mere thread.

Tables turned, the offenders
now plead for forgiveness,
beg for help, pretend the slights
were unintentional, harmless,
expect their hostess to step
over the bloodied and slain bits
of herself, and with benevolence,
restore her love for them again.

They’re just family, after all,
she says weakly, the torn script
of her expectations scattered.

(My art, entitled She Stands In the Middle of It All. This poem first appeared May, 2016)

Perfect

I’m being a good girl, Dad
Staying out of sight
Keeping my needs to a minimum
Promise I don’t cry, Dad.

I’m being a good wife, Dad
Cooking all his favourites
Letting him walk ahead
Never uttering a peep, Dad

I’m a perfect background wife, Dad
Just like you taught me; just like Mom
Only no one has to hit me to make me
behave, Dad; I learned it good from you.

(Image my own)

If I Were a Kitchen

If I were a kitchen,
I’d want an old-fashioned woman
at my counters – rolling dough
canning pickles, chutney, jam,
homemade pasta sauce,
and every Sunday, a roast.
She’d wear her sweat like a saint,
ignore her aching back –
one practiced hand feeding
her Carnation baby, while
other children flocked to Formica,
hot flesh sticking to vinyl
as they picked at fresh made
sweet buns, the pot on the stove
perpetually simmering.

Or give me modern efficiency –
ninjas and presses, air fryers
and induction cookers –
let the children belly up
to the breakfast bar, chomp
on veggies and humus, while
cook totes baby in a sling,
and preps bone broth,
strains of Baby Einstein
emitting from a propped up iPad,
while a cellphone vibrates
on granite, and the Keurig
spits out Starbucks Pike.

Just don’t abandon me,
piles of unopened mail,
or tossed aside receipts
company for coffee rings
on my counters.
Please don’t litter my surfaces
with rotting takeout containers, or
dishes caked with processed cheese –
don’t leave my stainless steel sinks
stained, spoiled food reeking
in the refrigerator, traces
of late night mishaps curdling
on the floor; absence of familiar
sounds declaring my presence invalid.

(Rewrite of a rewrite. Image my own)

Family Portrait

Did you know that life would come to this?
Flattened memories pressed between wax
the essence of our efforts forgotten,
the dreams, so carefully construed, lost.

You leaned toward the conventional,
and I was ever the sentimentalist,
and yet we ended up in the same place –
shadow selves standing at the banks
of our dishevelled lives…

Survivors, nonetheless, tokens
of a a past riddled with so many lies,
so much heartbreak…

We are ghost sisters
haunted, hunting,
unable to step away –

Drawn in,
pulling apart –
all that remains.

(Family Portrait first appeared here February, 2019. Edited here. Image my own)

I Am Listening, Child

Child of mine,
what rage is this
that sets you against
a younger brother?

What discontent stirs
so deeply within that
you would lash out
at me, your mother?

Let us sit a moment,
and let me, with tenderness,
listen, for your anger masks
pain, and I am not so far
removed from childhood
to recognize that tone.

If I have wronged you,
speak; I need to hear it.
If peers are pressuring,
or bullying, or you feel
betrayed, lay it here
in my hands, and I will
comfort you, and offer
what wisdom I have.

Your well-being is sacred
to me; let me hold you –
you’re not too old – linger
here in my embrace until
the tears come, and the storm
passes; I will hear your fears,
frustrations, and disappointments,
and together we will figure it out.

Child of mine,
I am here for you,
no matter the reason;
your pain is my pain,
talk to me; I am listening.

(This poem first appeared Dec, 2019. Image my own)

Prayer Unanswered

Calm, the morning air,
mind lost in reflection,
mirror-still waters

Raise my eyes skyward,
pray for release, an end
to Mother’s suffering.

Nothing. Death
has its own rhythm –
emotions mud.

(I wrote this poem a year ago, when my Mother was in and out of hospital with heart failure and pneumonia. Now, a year later, she continues to struggle. “We live too long,” she says. “Pray for my release.” Photo: Mom at 94, courtesy of my son.)

Martyr’s Lament

I wake before dawn,
drive through blinding snowstorms,
if lost, alter course – without faltering –
even set out on foot when driving
becomes impossible, navigating
treacherous snow and ice, for you

So you can get where you need to be
So you can succeed
I risk it all for you

I keep you by my side
so that you will be safe
so that I can ensure your arrival

But, I grow weary, and my body
won’t go on, and all I ask for
is that we rest awhile,
so that I can catch my breath

And in that instance, you are gone –
no hesitation in your step, no looking back –
and when you finally stop to wait for me
it is too late…

A barrier has grown between us:
like an eight-foot, chain-link fence
separating me from protecting you

And you look at me with that glare
of exasperation that says:
“I should have done it on my own.”

Wait! Wait, I say.
This wall may seem insurmountable
but I can do it. I can do it; give me time.
I’ll just climb to the top.
It’ll be easy; you’ll see!

Don’t walk away! Give me one more chance
to prove my love. I do it all for you.

(Martyr’s Lament first appeared here in November, 2014.
This version is a rewrite. Image my own.)