Sally O’Dowd is the author of the poetry collection Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and Other Tales of Love and Loss.

I.

Mother and I hop off at summertime.

We’re home from a day at the pool.
The swing hanging from the maple
sways in the breeze
as we come up the back walk.

She makes me cinnamon toast
to tide me over.
Buttery-soft-sugary-warm —
I eat on the shady porch,
wiping my fingers on my bathing suit.
It’s quiet but for the flirting of birds
and boys on bicycles.

As my tummy warms to the food,
I feel the sensation of being clean
down to the whites of my toenails —
that’s what our days swimming do.
I watch her make dinner
through the window screen.

II.

We enter gay Paris,
mother and me.
The smells and sounds are new —
“World, how do you do?”
We eat cheese sandwiches
in the park by the Picasso museum.
We’re there to celebrate another year.
She writes,
“Soar on your swing,”
on my birthday card.

III.

Emboldened, I take the wheel —
life’s unqualified conductor.
Miscalculations lead us into a storm.
“Stay strong,” she says.
“Smile through the rain.”
“I’ll try, Mom,” I say,
“but it’s hard to mirror you.
At times my mind
is a box of dusty papers.
You are always in bloom.”

IV.

The train’s wheels approach
from the East.

In the living room,
on a hospice bed,
where the wingback chairs used to be,
she lies, barely moving.
“Wasn’t it fine,”
she says in her lucid moments,
letting each visitor
take her hand
for a requiem of block parties,
beach vacations and hockey games,
of Chuck Mangione’s trumpet
playing from speakers
on the neighbor’s front porch.
“There were grand moments like that.”

V.

She boards,
outside our house,
for the final ride.
I sprint alongside,
lengthening my stride to keep up.
Stay strong through the storm.
Smile through the rain.

I say,
“Just one more time,
one more time,
the warm hand.”

The pavement under my feet
gives way to a field
of wild grasses and sunflowers.
The train curves at the bend —
I lose sight.
Her window has become
the screen window of my mind.

I know she’s waving.
I’m sure.

© Sally O’Dowd, January 2017

Image credit © Gretchen Kelly. Lil boathouse in hindsight (from the train window). Altered image. Gretchen Kelly’s art can be found on www.gretchenkellyart.com; her shop is on Etsy.

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