Tuesday, December 12

Bring Him Back

To coax your dad out of hiding,
Leave a bowl of his favorite ice cream on the counter and
Watch it melt.

If he doesn’t complain,
Whisper about how long it’s been since you changed your oil
About how maybe you could stretch it another year.
Listen for tools to fall from garage shelves in protest.

If there’s silence,
Fill up the tub with steaming bubbles,
change your mind,
and walk away to the sound of draining water.

He hates waste.

If still he doesn’t make a sound,
Try a gentler approach.
Put on his favorite song,
Let Zeppelin shake your walls
And dance in the kitchen with a microphone whisk.

Wait for him to join.

If this too fails,
Pull out your last and greatest trick:
Watch your belly swell
With the kicks of a baby boy

Because if anything will bring him back,
It’s how badly he’ll want to know your children.
To throw them in the air,
And change the words of their favorite stories
So there are more fight scenes.

If anything will bring him back,
It’s all the bad nicknames he can’t wait to give your children,
How gleefully he’ll laugh when they stick.

If anything will bring him back,
It’s how hard your baby kicked your ribs
Two lines ago
The way he’ll grin at the proof of growing life.

If anything will bring him back,
It’s how much it will kill him (again) to miss this.

So if you stand now with a six month belly,
And your dad has not come back from the dead,
Whisper, “thank you” to the wind
Because you know he’d return if he could.

Hold his memory in your hands as you hold your child in your arms,
And let his love pulse through your words and your laughter and your tears.

Then dish a bowl of ice cream.
But this time,

Don’t let it melt.

Wednesday, July 5

One Year

I've spent my morning trying not to look at Today. At least not in big, heart-thumping ways. I've looked at the few minutes in front of me, looked at the few minutes behind, and angled my head just so to avoid Today.

But Today is Today is Today and I know I need to face that. Despite grief's arbitrary, unpredictable rules, dates are reliable knife wounds. There's no avoiding calendar truths.

It's been one year and one month since I had a real conversation with my dad.
It's been one year and three weeks since our reality was gut-punched and death's question mark wrapped itself around every moment.
It's been exactly one year since the question mark was removed.

My words are falling short and I can barely read through my tears.

I just don't get it.

Death, with or without warning, is abrupt. It's unfinished. 
I will never know what my dad thinks about his own death. I will never know whether he knew how many people camped out in the ICU waiting room night after night. I will never know whether he saw how many people flooded his funeral. And I will never know if he knew just how much he was loved.

But I hope he can feel it. I hope the intensity of our love and our missing pulse loudly enough to reach him. I hope he knows that we cry and we laugh. I hope he knows we still experience joy because he taught us to chase the light. I hope he knows that we will love him with every breath until we too are gone.

Dad, can you hear me?

I love you.

Please hear me.

I love you, I love you, I love you.

Thursday, May 18

Past Tense

Before this sentence escapes my lips, this moment will have become past tense.
It will have happened, no longer be happening.

But people are more than single moments and
Most will survive this sentence.
We are happening. We haven’t happened.

But what about the people who become past tense?
And what about those left in the present tense, fighting not to capsize under the weight of all the conjugations they never wanted to make?
What do you do when your present tense love is only reciprocated in memory?

I love him.
He loved me.

In Spanish class, I conjugated el es to el fue, not realizing I was transcribing loss. I thought I was memorizing test answers, not holding worlds in the tip of my pencil, but I can tell you, on July 5th at 1:42 p.m., when my dad went from fighting cancer to having fought, grammar had nothing to do with it.

Fighting, fighting, fighting, fought.

You never realize present tense is a gift until it’s ripped from your hands. Until every conversation forces you to stare conjugations in the eye, to decide if you’re strong enough to pull out the words everyone is waiting for.

You develop a stutter, even if it only happens in your heart.

Your heartbeat wears his fingerprint, but you wish your skin could wear his hug, and your words could wear his, “now.”

But you can’t and so your now is now is cloaked in present tense grief so intense you forget to breath, forget to inhale, forget to live. But before you fade completely, you see, shimmering in the distance, a beautiful truth: that when he was here, he present tense loved you too.

And you breathe.

Thursday, May 11

Anything Else

This is a poem about anything else.

This is a poem about the way sun glistens off dew like little shards of glass.
-about the way I sometimes see laughter bubble and spill across the floors of our home.

This is a poem about the way my coffee mug warms my hands before my coffee warms my mind.
-about the way freshly-cut grass smells like sun and summer.

This is a poem about the way bike rides up the canyon make me feel like I’m flying.
-about the way everything quiets under snow-covered sky.

This is a poem about the way I walk along sun-softened tar, watching as my footprints hold then fade.
-about the way my ice cream cone melts and I lick it from my wrists.

This is a poem about the way ice cubes scribble like temporary chalk on blister hot cement.
-about the way cold ocean waves shock air from your lungs.

This is a poem about the way some of my smiles reach deep into my eyes.

And this is definitely not a poem about missing my dad.

Wednesday, November 23


When I see grief barreling my way,
I turn my back, close my eyes, clench my teeth.
I fill my ears with noise and hope grief won't see me
hiding in all the chaos.

But sometimes,
When I feel its presence,
I sigh and whisper, "okay."
I let it break me for a few minutes or an hour
and then gingerly pick up my pieces and
unload the dishwasher or wipe the counter and

try to live
in the shadow of all that's missing.

Wednesday, November 2

It's national novel-writing month, so here are a few hastily crafted words I wrote while under the influence of NyQuil.


Everything looks better covered in summer night. The newspapers half disintegrating on the sidewalk, the chipping swing set paint, my dull loneliness. The knot in my stomach loosens just a little as warm air wraps around everything like a blanket.
Night music follows me. My steady footsteps, rustling leaves, the distant sounds of cars growing close then growing far. As I walk, I paint descriptions in my head. Trees dripping leaves. Tire swings still echoing shrieking laughter. Shop lights creeping closer. As long as I can remember, I’ve done this. It’s the best way I know to bring the world sharply into focus, turning what I see into words to string about like Christmas lights. Without words, I find my mind floating, floating, floating, a boat without a rudder. It’s nice to float sometimes, but I ache for handfuls of concrete world most days. Breaths escaping like runaway children.
Up ahead, I see the bookstore. I stumbled upon it two nights ago and felt a burst of relief so sharp I almost wept. I’ve lived here three weeks and this bookstore is the closest thing I have to a friend. Before moving, I lived in the same city, same neighborhood, same house for thirteen years. I don’t remember how to make friends. I do remember how to fall soul-first into a good book.
A bell chimes as I open the door. The cashier, a red-headed boy with kind eyes, looks up. “Back so soon?”
I smile. “Live here if I could.”
He nods in a me too way before bending back over a stack of books.
I amble toward the realistic fiction section. Grazing my fingertips across rows of gleaming books, I scan titles, stopping occasionally to thumb through pages for favorite lines. Good lines are like pieces of candy you can suck on whenever you wish.
After working my way through four aisles, her. Toni Morrison. Writing that shakes you alive. Words that suck the air from a room.
I started with Sula last year and remember feeling like I had been knocked dizzy. My pen danced across the pages, underlining line after line. I wanted to guzzle her words. For a month I scrawled a different line from Sula on my wrist each morning. The first:“It is sheer good fortune to miss somebody long before they leave you.” The last: “I don’t want to make somebody else. I want to make myself.” I could have kept going but I let Megan borrow my copy. Plus my wrist had started to bleed purple pen onto my shirts.
After Sula, I read Beloved, Home, and Tar Baby. I’m going to finish all her words this summer. I pull Jazz, Bluest Eyes, and Song of Solomon off the shelf and sit cross legged on the floor. I read the first two pages of each and then place them side by side. I have enough money to buy two, but not three. I reread the first lines. No help. Finally I close my eyes and shuffle them about; without looking, I pick up two. Song of Solomon is the orphan book staring lonely from the floor. “I’m sorry,” I whisper, placing it reverently back on the shelf. “I’ll come back.”
I probably shouldn’t book whisper in a new city where no one knows me, but Song of Solomon just looked so rejected. I think the pages wilted a little when I put them back.

Walking home I notice just how many pieces of the world flew by without my noticing. A blue door, a crooked mailbox, a car plastered in bumper stickers. In my old neighborhood, I played a game with myself. Any time I walked somewhere I’d try to notice something I hadn’t before. You’d think eventually I’d lose after living in the same place for thirteen years, but I never did. Now my eyes catch on everything. Rooftops blinking through missing shingles. Windows framed by peeling yellow paint. Oil stains splattered across driveways like Jackson Pullock pieces.  
I string my surroundings together in fragmented descriptions until I notice, with a shock, that grass gleaming wet belongs to my house.

Sunday, October 16

Like Your Hands

As the man hands me my change,
I notice that his hands look like your hands,
Before the hospital,
When we were able to hold them,
And you were able to hold us.

And as I collect two quarters and three pennies,
My stomach clenches
And I don’t think I’ll be able to eat the food I just bought
Because his hands look like yours.

And as I drive forward,
I remember that I’m driving into a life sentence of
Constant rememberings, all of them full of you,
And your absence,
And my anger,
And my grief.

And I think, for the thousandth time,
That I can’t wait to talk to you about all of this.
I can’t wait to tell you that I saw hands that looked like yours
And that they made me sad
And I can’t wait for you to tell me
How to live with this
Because you always did have the best answers,
Even if some of them were made up.

I want to ask you how I’m supposed to answer the question,
“How are you?” because my honesty is now laced with leaden heartache.
Does it make me disingenuous to say I’m okay or is the silent caveat I attach in my head enough to make my answer real?

And I can’t wait to hear
What you think about the way I listen to your voicemails and the way my face crumples and becomes a funhouse mirror.
Does it make you feel loved that I miss your voice this much,
Or does it make you sad to see me so broken?
What would you say to me if you saw me curled up on the floor with my phone and your voice and my tears?
Would you tell a joke to make me laugh?
Or would you hold me and agree that
Death is bullshit?

I know you’d hate the way people tell me it happened for a reason,
Because we both know that’s a cheap way for others to feel comfortable with a loss that has made me irrevocably unokay.
If you were here, we’d talk about the things people say because they’re afraid of grief and we’d talk about how they shove their sorrow in a closet with their doubts and their vulnerability and we’d talk about all this
Over bowls of ice cream on Sunday night.
And as we’d clear the dishes you’d say something like,
“But we’re all just people trying to figure things out,”
Because you look for the good in everyone,
Even the people who tell me your sudden death was for a reason.
You’d find some love even for them,
Because you’re so good at loving and living and being human,
Which is why this all makes me so angry.

Dad, how am I supposed to live,
When the hands handing me change
Look like your hands
But aren’t.