Remember second grade
on the field for gym
and you saw your mother’s car drive by
on Brown Street?
She was running an errand,
but the thought that she was in a place
you were not prepared to see her
made you feel like you would never see her again?
So you did the worst thing possible,
you broke away from kickball
and ran crying
to the chain link fence
after her receding car which turned a corner
and a teacher had to restrain you
and make you collect yourself on the concrete steps.
You don’t know how this non-encounter
could possibly end
or help but erase the feeling
you’d have later when you got off the bus
played for an hour
then she came home from her job at the hospital
still herself in the L-shaped kitchen
still a cloud of maternal molecules.
Now at the four-star hotel where you work,
in the wing where all the conference rooms are,
you wonder if you might see her again,
thinking it’s possible you might.
These adult days it never gets clarified,
the moments the family will all see each other again.
Somehow the thought of her—
not necessarily seeing her
or speaking about her with other hospice nurses
in attendance at the conference,
makes you want to transcend
the typical corner-cutting you do
with these conferences you’ve come to hate.
Today you bring extra ice water and coffee,
check the microphone’s batteries twice.
You search in the hallway for some outlet
to plug in the lamp for more light.
Today you can’t turn away a single person,
not a single soul.
But there are close to a hundred nurses,
her same age,
hers might be one in that long wave of women’s faces
coming in from the dining room.
They have the whiff of the afterlife on them,
a little daffy, but they are full of some wisdom
of the life-force no other hotel staff seems to recognize.
Halfway through the hospice conference
you get a glimpse of what it all means.
About ushering souls to their next destination,
being that person standing still and pointing
“that way” while a torrent of souls pours
down a never-ending dimly lit corridor.
If heaven has job openings,
this is the one you want.
Reading the puzzled faces of new arrivals,
approaching them: “Can I help you?”
“I’m not sure where I’m supposed to go.”
“Which group are you with?”
This is part of the crippling significance,
the gnosticism you see,
the profound machinery
behind the mundane curtain.
Flimsy evidence of God
but in your spirit’s secret court
it seems the smoking gun.
Here’s the stolen hospital scrubs I wore
To her C-section.
I never took them off, I had them on
The rest of my life,
And no one seemed to notice.
The sentimental kleptomania was there
At her first breath.
“What a glue-pot I have acquired in you!”
Paraphrasing Byron at his daughter’s birth.
“No idea that job and family
Would extract such life-force from me.”
Paraphrasing someone at the give-up point.
The me-bomb was set off by a triggering device
I left on the coffee table for anybody to stumble upon.
I have had to shield my daughter
From my character arc.
I wonder, when we are tranquil.
And observe our tiny daughter play
Or select the next crayon by her system,
Will I fear her? Will I one day
Never have liked her?
In the backseat, she’s humiliated, furious
She made all those mistakes at the concert.
Although her xylophone just got lost
Among the din of other students.
There’s no way anyone would have noticed.
But she’s convinced she was awful. Maybe.
And I’m in the driver’s seat, bald and paunchy,
In a sad unhip jacket, mulling over whether
To leap into this latest hero-sized gap.
I just have to speak the right enzyme of words
To act on adolescent substrate,
Never moving from behind the wheel.
Or, do the dictates of dad drama make me pull her out
And hug her standing in the flood
Of other dads’ departing headlights.
(At age six she hid from the TV in the dark,
Whimpering, “Hold Me For The Shere Khan Parts!”)
The high school parking lot in as a frozen still-point,
The soundtrack shatters and crests
Like it did in those John Hughes movies
I rented twenty years ago.
I studied the bored Chicago ‘burbs, the white teen angst.
I was so taken with the smart-aleck oddball drummer girl.
She cried and pined and got the earrings in the end.
Everything past and future with my daughter
Is seared and flared
In an instantaneous flash of memory paper.
Three times this weeping girl rescued me
And when I embrace her,
I’m playing tug of war with time.