Below a Hole in the Universe

Mom: Rota, Spain, 1984

For my biggest fan since the day I was born

Who will be there to read the latest story I wrote, however unaccredited?
Who will be there to share my newest find from the bookstore?
Who will be there to listen to me at a poetry reading when Dad cannot?

Who will be there to call, worrying when I haven’t phoned in a couple of days?

Who will be there to binge-watch Big Love with me when I finally have the time?
Who will be there to say, “If I hear that one more time . . .” when I claim I am the Energizer bunny?
Who will be there to keep me company on the deck while Hannah is being a leaf-gathering and nest-making mama bird?

Who will be there to make lame-o “mom jokes” that were only funny in the way that Alice from The Brady Bunch is funny?
Who will be there to give me a reason to pray the car doesn’t break down somewhere because she’s wearing her zebra housecoat?
Who will be there to shake her head at me when I brag about not having tan lines?

Who will be there to yell at Dad about his driving when no one else is in the car?
Who will be there to yell “Be sure to tell them ‘hot fries!’” at Dad while he’s in the drive-through?
Who will be there to yell at Dad when he tries to pull the bait-and-switcheroo with off-brands from the grocery store?
Who will be there to yell at Dad?

Who will be there to eat Dad’s overcooked and underseasoned food?
Who will be there to ask me to get her a cup of ice because she doesn’t know her way around the refrigerator?
Who will be there to try my Grandmother Bernadean’s chocolate roll recipe, when I’ve finally perfected it?

Who will be there to outnumber Dad when he insists he’s right about some obscure fact?
Who will be there to remind Dad on how he’s hardly ever right about anything because he’s as stubborn as a Missouri mule? (We come from the “Show-Him” State, you know.)
Who will be there to ask, “Is there an echo in here?” when my dad and I say the same thing simultaneously, being on the same wavelength and all?

Who will be there to go with me to the World of Coke and the Campbell Peach Festival?
Who will be there to stay with me in the hospital when I am sick while my husband takes care of our daughter?

Who will be there to tell me I am beautiful, just because I am theirs?
Who will be there to tell me about myself, before I remembered myself?
Who will be there to tell me about Dad, before I was a gleam in his eye?

Who will be the proud mama when I finally graduate from college?
Who will be there for the Hannah Boo birthdays yet to be celebrated?
Who will be Grandma to my Hannah Banana?

Who will be the other mother to see me bring my Ryan or Madeleine into the world?
Who will be there to see them not only be good but do good in it?

Who will be you?

There were so many roles you filled
that no one will be able to play
the way you did;
some, no one will be able to play
at all.

There will just be your empty chair,
for you are neither here nor there,
but elsewhere.

Yet the distance between us,
between hello and good-bye,
is simply a wrinkle in time—
a wrinkle that will be ironed out
someday,
after I have lived my life—
the one you taught me to live.

*I read this poem—originally titled “Who Will Be You?”—at a student poetry reading at Pensacola State College in March 2018, one day after my mother, Betty Ann, was buried.

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