We Have Prepared For This All Our Lives
without knowing it, like a woman woken at 2 a.m.
with the running of the bulls in her chest,
who finally recognizes it’s the same pulse of terror
as her childhood nightmares of mechanical monsters
or uncles with hair growing out of their ears,
tracking her in all her hiding places, then tilting
their heads to ask what she is really scared of
that daylight won’t erase.
In her mosaic of sleep, she has learned to be brave
enough to bake them shortbread with real butter
to make up for a mother who didn’t or couldn’t
love them, or their own bad dreams, like hers,
that the wind will dissolve into a thousand
dandelion parachutes launching without end.
She has prepared for the proliferation of bad news,
rehearsing what she would say to the oncologist,
coming into the examination room with a small box
of tissues. She had steadied herself on the ledge
of a breakup, a pink slip, a child finally admitting
he can’t stop hurting himself.
She knows from before she had words for it
what it is to wake empty as the pale clouds
that will not rain or migrate for days.
Also, that preparation means nothing
when the bottom falls out, which was always
falling falling falling away from the floorboards
that held the old floral chair she found in an alleyway.
But she also knows how to sit and wait
in that floral chair, now on the porch, listening
to woodpeckers to her left, flickers to her right,
drilling out their fight songs while sunlight
washes the walls of the world, especially now
that she is we, and we are telling ourselves
variations of it’s-under-control or it-never-was,
our foreheads bustling words like panorama,
pandemic, pandemonium, even here
in the relatively safe house of preparation
that is not built from knowing what to do
but inhabiting the question mark of this breath,
this bloodstream, this bird of this time.
Your Grief For What You’ve Lost
Lifts a mirror, then drops it,
the broken shards falling slowly
until they turn into pale white butterflies
disappearing around the bend.
What did you think would happen
when you let go, or more accurately,
when your grip failed and the weight
of studying your pain slipped well beyond
your ruminations, schematics, and chants?
Now it is time to soften your gaze
at the night window, a moth clinging from outside,
hungry for the light within, your heart valves
opening, closing, a minuscule hummingbird.
Miles around, the sea of air stills to glass,
whips trees to the ground and holds them there
until the light pulls them back up, slightly
swayed, but still honorable, each one its own
grief and its own answer to grief.
Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Ph.D., the 2009-13 Kansas Poet Laureate is the author of 24 books, including How Time Moves: New & Selected Poems (forthcoming); Miriam’s Well, a novel; Needle in the Bone, a non-fiction book on the Holocaust; The Sky Begins At Your Feet, a bioregional memoir on cancer and community; and six poetry collections, including the award-winning Chasing Weather with photographer Stephen Locke. Founder of Transformative Language Arts, Mirriam-Goldberg also leads writing workshops widely and coaches people on writing and right livelihood through the arts. https://www.carynmirriamgoldberg.com/