Aren’t you astonished when the tiny lifeboat of your mind
surfaces in annoyance at how much the vice president
of the college where you’re about to leave your son
is belaboring his point? At how, when you’re sobbing
so hard in the car as you’re driving off,
you can also imagine how maybe later you could buy
some of those yogurt-covered pretzels at the gas station
because isn’t this one of those days you’ve been
waiting for all your life when it’s okay to have
what you want? You know how the only good thing
about someone being in the hospital is sitting
in a diner late at night and eating pancakes with syrup,
slowly lifting the fork to your mouth?
The body carries on its little dramas.
There is life without you.
It’s like after someone dies and every moment
is a moment you live and he didn’t.
At this point, you might be thinking you should
remind me that my son is not dead, but I wouldn’t.
Not after the gas station did not have the pretzels.
Not after trying to listen to music and getting
what I used to call, and I guess still do,
that Sammy Hagar feeling, which means Sammy
is playing his guitar too loud in his room and you want
to tell him to turn it down or just move out already,
a feeling I never had with you.
I can’t believe you will have so many thoughts now
that I don’t know about. It’s like the first time I realized
your mind had its privacy. You were sitting at the table
on your booster seat, coloring, and you looked up and said,
Mom, do you think I’m odd? And then a few minutes later,
Mom, are you happy here with me?
Later, I realized both of these lines
were from Beauty and the Beast, that you were acting,
and that you realized this and didn’t tell me, that you knew
they belonged to the movie but now also to you,
and I asked you about it and a smile slid across your lips
the way smoke moves and I could see your intelligence
and the little corridors behind your eyes you would walk down
until you reached the door you’ve opened now.
And me too, I want to tell you, if only we had letters
or phones or emails or texts, I am having thoughts
of my own, I am thinking of when I moved into my dorm
and Bobby McFerrin was singing, “Don’t worry, be happy”
on the radio, and my roommate had tied a piece of fabric
softener to the fan, which was something I’d never seen before
and made the air smell so good.
On the wall of my high school bedroom,
I had a poster of a ballerina,
her leg flung up behind her.
Inside her pink shoes, her toes
were quietly bleeding.
The words on the poster read
If you can dream it, you can become it.
I could dream it.
In a dream the water is dark
and you can slip inside it and not drown
or if you do, it doesn’t matter,
you can just walk up out of the lake
with weeds in your hair
and sit at the table with the others.
I have to stay here with the ballerina
because what if the wind
blows back and the fallen leaves
return to the trees and grow young
and green again and the clouds float
backwards across the sky
and it’s spring again
and all the little flowers are shivering?
I had been waiting here for years
when finally you blew a little breath
across the fire.
You said it didn’t matter
what happened between us.
You said we made it through that
and a hundred other things,
which makes me want to tell you
about the boy who came after you
with eyes the color of the river,
the baby in his white gown,
the reeds and the dragonflies,
the so many nights of going to bed
and getting up and doing it all again,
and now my skin crumpling like paper
where you wrote something
you couldn’t get right.
Laura Read’s chapbook, The Chewbacca on Hollywood Boulevard Reminds Me of You, was the 2010 winner of the Floating Bridge Chapbook Award, and her collection, Instructions for My Mother’s Funeral, was the 2011 winner of the AWP Donald Hall Prize for Poetry and was published in 2012 by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Her second collection, Dresses from the Old Country, will be published by BOA in fall of 2018. She teaches English at Spokane Falls Community College and currently serves as the poet laureate of Spokane.