★ ★ ★ ★


This is the day my mother died

I don’t know what to do with myself.
So I make the pumpkin pie from
the recipe on the Libby’s label because
it’s what you do the day before
thanksgiving. I stir the homemade
cranberry sauce because that’s
what’s expected with the turkey.
Mom always made it before.
She’d cook it at home in New York,
tart berries, some sugar, bright slices
of orange, her own sweet twist, pack it up
in Tupperware and carry it on her lap as she
drove with my dad down to my house.
Her contribution, always, along with
her homemade apple pie. We’ve strayed
from her tradition, my son’s taste
for pumpkin winning out. I think of her
as I hear the cranberries hiss and pop.

I don’t know what to do with myself.
I try to finish my assignment, lose myself
in work; I do have a deadline. Deadline.
Ha. I don’t like that word much today.
A passage that should take an hour to edit
lasts the afternoon as I stare at the oak
outside my window, shivering
in the November wind, brown leaves
backlit by slanting afternoon sun.
I abandon work, let my mind drift
down through the years, remember
the thrill when Mom would steal me away
after ballet class to share a sundae, coffee,
three scoops, drowned in butterscotch,
dripping with whipped cream; a lifetime
later, the small satisfaction of finding
a tiny cup of that same flavor, bringing
it to the nursing home, feeding her
a spoonful at a time, watching her smile
as she sat in the sunlight in a quiet corner.

I don’t know what to do with myself.
I sit here at night, aimless, spill words
on the page, try to capture this sense
of emptiness, frame it, make it mean
something. She was ready. She’d told me.
Home.  She wanted to go home to her mom
and dad. I pray she’s found them, found
my dad, too, as I think and cry and write
and try to pin down this life I’ve lost.

Mother’s daughter

You can no longer really talk, just a few
guttural sounds, an emphatic, croaked
“yes!” when emotion runs strong. No more
food either; swallowing is gone. But when
you hear my knock at the door, you turn
your head toward me, beam, face naked
with joy. I settle next to you as best
I can on the flowered coverlet someone
has kindly spread over your hospital bed
and reach for your outstretched palm.
You grab my fingers, squeeze like a vice
as I smooth my thumb over your hand.
I feel the fierce mother’s grip I’ve known
my whole life. You look at me, devouring,
as if memorizing the features so like yours.
I stroke your iron gray hair, stare back
into your eyes, wide and unblinking,
and I smile, and smile, and I hear you.
You know I’ve always been Daddy’s girl.
You don’t care. You offer me
the raw intensity of your mother’s love.
I drink it in, and I know I am yours.

An editor by trade, Margaret Eckman has come to love the rigor poetry demands—telling a complete story, well and beautifully, in a few short lines; she continues to strive toward that goal. Her award-winning poems have appeared in the Broadkill Review, Aurorean, Nantucket Magazine, and other publications. Her book Hope Runs Through It (as M. W. MacKay) is a collection of poetry that explores the beauty and mystery of nature, the struggles and hope of spirituality, and the challenges and blessings of raising a child with special needs.