Standing at the Altar
He steals a glance at her.
She sits in the back, fighting tears.
The bride marches in, smiling, holding peonies.
I want to read the story
that you would have written
if you weren’t afraid, he said,
tell me where you have been,
the nameless cliff that you
fell from, turn it to words,
and keep writing until
it has lost its power
to hurt you.
At four thirty I stand at the end of the bridge
watching my daughter descend
from the yellow school bus.
We begin our journey home
as the sun leans wearily to the west.
Her schoolbag is painted with funny daisies.
Inside there are many unanswered questions.
It takes three hundred and four steps to cross this bridge
to our white stucco house with a wooden swing.
She likes to go higher and higher, my fatherless daughter.
My own father left me on a cloudy day in the winter.
I often ask my daughter to count her own steps home,
but she rather skips and hops and says hello to the ducks.
I think about whether her eyes will grow
into a deeper blue like her father, as I often think about
these small and inconsequential matters.
Was it calla lilies that I carried
on my wedding day
or did I lay them down
on my husband’s grave?
As my daughter begins to run, her shadow
tearing away from mine, my terrified limbs
give birth to a butterfly. One hundred and twenty-one steps,
or is it one hundred and twenty-five?
God please help me go back to zero before all my sadness began.
I want to know what makes my little girl come back
to hold my hands as if they are her own gloves.
I want to remember the way she looks at me,
like how she would look at a dying deer,
with eyes like two blue stars
from the vast universe shouting to me,
mommy, mommy, don’t be afraid.
Originally published in Mouse Tales Press in September 2016.