Spending Memorial Day with the living, avoiding the dying

I suppose I should have spent

Memorial Day

With my mother,

If Memorial Day is for


Those who are

No longer with us.

Then, she would’ve been the

Appropriate one.

If you think of a person as a

Sum of three parts,

As I do:




Then at least

One-third of

My mother–

The part centered in her

Atrophied brain–

Is gone forever.


So I should’ve gone over there.

Paid homage to the

Memory of her mind,

And helped my father maintain her

Body and


But I didn’t.

I spent Memorial Day with the

Vividly alive:

My husband,

Our children,

And friends.


And lounging around on plastic lawn chairs

In the sun,

The finally hot sun.

I typically make it a point to

Think of the dead

On Memorial Day:

All my grandparents,

An uncle who died at 10 years old,

An aunt and cousin killed in a car accident,

A cousin who drank himself to death.

Some of them I’ve never met.

But this year of all years,

With one of the


Still available,

I avoided her.

The crispy bones in her back and shoulders

When I pat her in greeting;

The jaw ticking

Ceaselessly back and forth;

The milky eyes watching my nose,

Then my hair,

Then looking past me as I

Talk and smile.

I never want to be there,

With her,

But I’m usually willing to go.


I wasn’t even willing.

This Memorial Day,

I chose the living.


The kid who watched me do yoga in the park

A few weeks ago,

I was in the park over my lunch hour

Doing yoga in the sun.

I was in headstand

With my legs pretzeled into lotus.

I was listening to the

Birds chirping,

And enjoying the spring breeze on my stomach

Where my shirt had peeled down,

When I heard a voice:

“Hey, I can do that.”

I curled at the waist,

Lowering my braced legs to the ground,

And looked up.

A teenage boy was kneeling on the

Green pitch next to me.

He put the tip of his head on the pavement

And raised his legs above him,

Basketball shoes tiptoeing against the sky.

“See, I can stand on my head.

I don’t think I could do that leg thing, though,”

He said, his voice as steady as if he were

Standing upright.

“You could if you practiced,” I said,

Moving into my next set of poses.

(I hesitated,

Are we going to chat?

But then I just kept moving.)

Shoulder stand:

Legs and torso slicing up into the sky.

My eyeballs,

Behind my sunglasses,

Rolled left:

The boy was perched on the concrete wall,

Toes brushing the ground.

“Do you mind if I watch?

I’m not invading your privacy am I?”

“No, no, that’s fine,”

I said quickly.

My legs folded down over my face into plow,

The backs of my legs pressed up against the sky.

From between my knees,

I could see him.

His hands were resting on his thighs.

We were silent for about ten minutes.

I moved through my poses.

Breathing as I’ve been taught.

I didn’t forget about him,

But the fact of his presence receded

As if he was backing slowly away.

When I stood up into


Twisting one leg around the other leg,

And one arm around the other arm,

I quick


He wasn’t looking at me.

He was looking up at the sky.


After I was done,

And rolling up my mat,

We chatted.

He had just moved up from


To live with his mom.

He was a senior.

He played football,

And wanted to be a

Car engineer.

He was going to go to the


He thought I should put

My son

In football

If he couldn’t sit still in class.

That’s what his mom did.

We walked

Sort of together

Back toward the road.

Me toward work,

Him toward his alternative high school.

“See ya,” I said as we walked in different directions.

A few other times,

I went back to that park over the lunch hour,

And he was there every time,

And every time,

He would come and

Talk to me

Or sit by me

As I moved through my yoga poses.

One day,

I started going to a different park.

The origins of my mom cave

For the first year we lived in this house

The room at the top of the stairs

Was a dump space.

I wouldn’t even say “storage”

Because that implies some

Deliberation and


One day,

The kids discovered it,

And started nesting in there like

Wild voles

Among the piles of clothes and

Boxes of junk.

They would stash

Food under their t-shirts and

Close themselves in the windowless space

To snack and

Conspire in the

Pitch blackness,

Until one of them yelled they had been

Stepped on.

We would open the door,

And they would blink at us

And the offended party would pick his way

Through the clutter,


To the door,

And then everyone was kicked out for the day.

I came up with the idea of making it a sort of

Indoor tree house

For the kids.

I cleaned it out

(Crumpled pop cans,

Deflated bags of chips,

Empty Gogurt wrappers folded gutter-shaped,

Stray bits of candy rolling around —

It was a bandits’ lair I commandeered that day).

I laid down a patch of carpet,

And lugged all the toys up the stairs,

And organized them on shelves.

When I presented it to the kids the next day,

They were dismayed:

“But we liked it the way it was!”

It never really took off.

Every few weeks,

I would open the door and turn on the light,

And see that the toys were strewn about differently,

Or the Christmas lights I had strung up were falling down,

Or a bed pillow was left in the middle of the floor.

But I never saw them playing in there —

It was as if elves stole in at night and

Messed the room up.

So one day,

I grabbed it.

And now it’s mine.

A wedding day poem for my husband

May 7, 2011

You are hard to shop for on my budget.
The things you want:
A shimmering brass saxophone with tender keys,
A sterling Macbook with an i7 processor,
A smartphone with a face so smooth it slides into your blazer pocket like a sheen of ice.


For now, though,
This little love poem will have to do.
I know you don’t mind,
Not really.
Half a foot beneath that smirk is a
Heart as delicate
As a Sunday morning egg
Wobbling toward the edge
Of the counter top.
(I am good at catching up
Eggs with my
Long fingers
And warming them in my palm.)

Remember when you and I
Were at that restaurant on Valentine’s Day
Talking over tealights,
And you said something about
And I couldn’t stop laughing?
You do that all the time.
You say things—
You’re not trying to be funny.

You look at me with wide eyes as I laugh,
And then you start to chuckle along.
I’m chuckling just thinking of it.

And remember when we were watching a funny movie
On the laptop in bed one night,
And I was laughing,
And you were watching me and smiling,
And I said, “What?”
And you said,
“I just like to listen to you laugh.”

And how you buried your face in my neck when I told you
I fell in love with you

Watching you
Across the room
Talking to friends,
And your face unfurled into a smile.

And babe,
It’s so innocent.
We’re childlike when
We say these things to one another.
Who have lived enough to
Crawl before walking,
To decide,
And to march forward,
On and on,
Past exhaustion
Before lying down
In surrender.
We’re here today in a
Delicate state.
It must be a miracle.
I could go on for pages,
But I want to marry you.

Weather on my May 7 wedding: A task to delegate

None of my damn business

It occurs to me

That I could delegate

The weather

On my wedding day.

It’s just too much,

With five days to go,

Amidst printing programs and

Last-minute shopping,

To think of

Changing the weather patterns,


Erecting colossal fans in the atmosphere

To blow rain clouds or

Cold fronts away.

Building an immense clear dome

Over the whole Twin Cities metro area

To repel rain and wind but

Let the sunshine in.

Launching a new sun into the sky that would

Hover under any cloud cover,

And would be tethered to the spire atop the

IDS Center so it could never roam

Too far from the Twin Cities.

I just don’t have time.

I must have help.

But who to ask?

Who is up to the task?

Oh good god.

I don’t want to ask


He’s so unpredictable.

He’ll use this as a

Teachable moment about


Pleas for mercy after a pitiless winter,

Cries of unfairness at flurries in May,

Don’t help.

All I can do is buy a scarf

In my wedding colors

And get my rain coat dry-cleaned.




You can have the


You’ll do it anyway.

All I have to say is:

Thank you for the saying about

Rain on your wedding day

Meaning you’ll be rich.

It is some consolation.