My life is painted by pictures of you.
There you are, holding me
A bundle of cloth protected in your bare arms
as you wear that Jackie Kennedy dress-up dress.
There is Dad, too. In his cap and gown. In the background
which I find hard to believe, as he usually was
front and center.
That photo often reminds me of a fast-forward photo
of you on the beach in your parka
(it was January on Lake Michigan, afterall)
nose-to-nose with my baby
matching smiles caught in profile.
But let’s back up
to the other photos
next to cars and by big trees on
to the Lake
to stay with grandparents who really weren’t
fond of us.
Years later, I come to realize
we weren’t all that special, that there were years
when they weren’t all that fond of you
or your siblings
And these thoughts fill me with such agony
for little-girl you
who so deserved the mother
you would become
Despite (because of?) them.
This sorrow lightens my heart for you
makes me understand so much
I would not have when
Juanita and I wore those matching culottes
you made on your summer vacations
each year until we asked you not to.
I don’t know who took this one
Of me, laughing and pulling you into a hug.
I’m sure I was making fun of you
which is, as we know, our way.
Was I in college? Was my future still unplotted?
This probably taken during a nephew’s birthday
party where we all gathered
all of us still living somewhere in California
And even though all were grown
we still had Sunday dinner
often enough to make dad think
we had never moved out.
We each came back, too. Each of the four of us
at one time or another
Finding the ground again under your
and Dad’s rattling keys and coins
nervous that we would never find our way,
wondering if our lives would ever amount to …
and you never let him finish the thought
and made sure we all understood that home
regardless of the messes we made elsewhere.
Many years later
a crowd assembles believing themselves there
to celebrate Dad’s birthday, a big one
we realize now
but not for the reasons we envisioned
when you planned your own funeral and called it a party
while you were alive to enjoy it
gathering everyone you loved
making Dad the centerpiece
And, lo, you lived.
And then, he didn’t.
And I continue to marvel at how you knew
and how your less-than-fatal illness
at that time gave dad the gift
he later gave you:
the art of taking care
of loving when it matters
The other day the five of us (my now family) gathered
It had been some time since
we five had been
And it brought back the picture that lives
only in my mind
and probably yours
but not digitally
not even in raggedy-edged black and white.
Perhaps I’ll render it in stick figures.
You know the one
the picture of you, and me, and Molly,
and Kris, and Juanita
in the hospital bed in the corner
Kris had arrived 30 minutes before
I would leave in 30 more
Six of us; as one
It had not happened in years
and would never happen again
I hold that photo in my head often
in my daily cataloging of the important
This photo that doesn’t exist anywhere but my mind
takes me to other photos of
four in Christmas pajamas
that led to three in Christmas hats
And I am struck by the amount of you
that I am–
and that my daughters are–
but also some bad
and how grateful I am
that you became
that you survived that childhood
as well as ours.
The random pixels
form in my head
painting my life
in photos of you
and in photos of all that good you
have brought us all
who led from behind
more likely from the center
of all that noise
and you made order.
I won’t speak for the others
but for myself
when I say you are
the very center of every
And I give thanks.