Micropoetry Monday: Thanatology

Thanatology book cover

When the merry widow met
the grieving widower
at her late husband’s funeral,
Kickstarter Funeral Home
became their haven,
for when her loathsome groom
& the boss who’d made his life miserable
finally bought that farm down under,
they’d connected on a deeper level
by turning his obituary guestbook
into a public way to air their grievances—
giving others the courage to share their story
when she hadn’t had the courage to leave
nor he,
to quit.

When someone passed away,
the Tribute Reporter interviewed the 10 people closest to them,
but as she got to know her subject more in death
than she ever would have in life,
she found that some people only wanted to remember the deceased
the way they had known them.

D.D. Wentworth was the thrift store queen
who could always be found scraping
the bottom of the bargain bin
with her ShowBiz Pizza token.
She didn’t have 2 nickels to rub together
to make fire,
but she did have a penny
with a buffalo facing the wrong way
& a 3-dollar bill
with a mustachioed Gerber baby on it.
The millions she secretly accrued,
she left to her fat cat,
& things such as the funny money,
she left to her community.
The Wentworthless Museum
was erected in her honor,
where a furry, lifelike sculpture of a calico
is encased in a glass coffin,
or rather,
a glass case—
a penny over one eye,
a token on the other,
& a dollar bill between its teeth.

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.

Micropoetry Monday: The Faultlessness of their Stars

When the learned astronomer went blind,
he hired a foundling—
a lost soul hovering between heaven & hell.
A wealthy intellectual
(which was an oxymoron, for some),
he asked the boy to be his eyes,
to describe everything he saw.
And it was through the eyes of the blind,
that the learned astronomer’s apprentice,
through service to another,
reached his potential.
When the learned astronomer closed his eyes
for the final time in earth-space,
the boy’s eyes had been opened,
for there’d been nothing he’d ever had
that had been of value to anyone,
except to the learned astronomer
whose last sight was feel of the boys’ wet face
in his hands.

She bicycled, upcycled, & recycled,
burning calories,
not waste.
Her collar had faded from blue to white,
only to deepen into green.
She planted herself where she would grow the most–
an environment where she could be her most creative.
And with every ripening
& every reaping,
there would not be an uprooting,
but a replanting,
for she would leave a seed in her place–
ready to help the next person grow
in that place.

As Angel & Demon walked side by side in a parallel universe,
they came upon an impressionable human being
hitchhiking their way through the galaxy–
now standing before that split in the wishbone.
These 2 otherworldly beings were on a mission:
the former,
to gain a soul,
the latter,
a lost one.
The Demon told this being
that all their senses would be heightened
to anything they had ever experienced on Earth;
the Angel said that what they would experience
beyond the mythical pearly gates
would transcend all senses.
When the human being chose the planet
of the sun rays & the moon beams
over the one of candlelight & firelight,
they realized that they’d been to this place before,
& that the life they’d known had been a scavenger hunt–
where only a minority had figured out
that it was not themselves they were looking for,
but the Ticketmaster with the unlimited tickets
that had already been paid for.

Micropoetry Monday: Thanatology

She spent part of her holiday
scrapbooking her memories,
knowing
there would be more of them;
the other she spent
memorializing another’s memories,
knowing
there wouldn’t be
any more of them,
yet both books
were a celebration of life
& the people who lived it.

The friends she’d had during the best of times
were her friends for a season,
& were wonderful in their time,
but the friends who were there for her
during the worst of times
were her friends for all seasons—
sunbeams that warmed the grieving rain.

She put smiley-faced notes in her children’s lunch bags,
left lovey-dovey Post-Its for her husband on the kitchen counter,
& texted silly jokes to her mother when she couldn’t reach her.
She left a paper trail that stretched for miles,
so that when she was suddenly gone,
her family was left to pick up the scraps
that couldn’t even begin to tell the story
of how much they’d meant to her.

A Series of Fortunate Encounters

The day was young,
the night was long,
that date of March 4th–
the date Sydney breezed into the Reedsy Bluesy Cafe
where Tammy O’Shanter told her that Adelaide
(called Addie)
was the only one who had ever ordered chocolate milk (never coffee)
and a truffle brownie drenched in caramel syrup
every morning for breakfast
while she completed her morning crossword,
leaving behind more questions than answers.
Sydney waltzed into the Pence State College library
where Addie was always on the waiting list
for the newest installment of the Chocoholics Anonymous,
even as she was always late returning it,
leaving behind a Dove candy wrapper like a pressed flower,
which she had used for a bookmark.
Sydney ran into the man to whom Addie had been “practically engaged,”
into Addie’s best friend with whom she had shared the part of her life
her sister hadn’t seen,
and the mother they’d shared a space with–
a woman who had known Addie in a completely different way.
This all happened on her way to her Celebration of Life
(which they called funerals now),
with Addie as the guest of honor,
but the celebration had begun early
as Sydney retraced the steps Addie had taken every morning–
to gather the memories she would take out like holiday keepsakes–
memories she would take out when it only seemed
that she had run out of her own.

One More Memory

Betty Slide 13

If I had just one more memory–
one more moment stretched into years
(with light years between the seconds)–
I would have so much to show-and-tell you.
Does that not sound like a little child?

Your presence
hovers
in the absence
of space and time
as you observe Hannah’s progression,
listen to my stories,
and see this, your daughter,
in the collegiate green cap and gown,
having remade herself into the ungraven image
she’s always wanted to be.

We share memories of you at the table;
I like to imagine you hear us
every time we speak your name.
We have no complaints.

Dad still carries your driver’s license in his wallet;
there are never enough pictures.
We say, “That’s a Mom joke!”
(when the joke is truly terrible)
or “Remember when Mom ..?”

Dad still calls you Mom;
I call you Grandma.
“Say ‘Good-night, Grandma,’”
I tell my daughter,
“blow her a kiss to heaven.”
It’s a kiss strong enough
to shatter
plaster
ceilings,
to defy
gravity.
I catch the one you send back
and plant it on her cheek.

We call you what our children call you.
You wanted Dad to call you Betty more.
Your mother always called you Betty Ann.
You liked the names Carolyn and Elise.
You dug up the roots of the family tree
to give me mine.

She is…she was…
it is just “Grandpa’s house” now,
but the contact still reads “Mom and Dad’s”
in my phone.
I will never change it.

We remember your goulash–
the only thing you knew how to make–
even though we weren’t even Hungarian.
Still aren’t.

We just are.

The Lost Girl Who Found Herself a Woman

She lost her religion,
but found her faith.
She lost her church family,
but found lifelong friends.
She lost her livelihood,
but not her life—
only her quality of life.
She lost her husband,
but found a better one—
one who saw not
what she could become,
but who she was
in the Here and Now.
She lost her mom,
but found new memories—
memories of who she’d been
when she hadn’t been
paying attention.
She’d spent her life
not paying attention—
to details or anything else—
but death and loss
had sharpened her senses,
if only to reclaim,
in some small way,
that which had been lost.

Losing Sam

No one ever died in the South—
they simply passed away.
Her son hadn’t been killed,
but rather,
she had lost him in an accident.
When she wished him away from Heaven
and back to Earth,
it was only hope she experienced—
the hem of his coat as he went out the door,
the sound of his footsteps in the hall after a night out,
the smell of Axe that lingered in his bedroom.
In every sense but the physical,
he was there,
but the tragedy was that his memory
lived on in the form of a shadow
in which her daughter lived.