Intentionally Past Tense

Content Warning: This poem references loss of parents, grief, mourning, and also non-specific references to childhood trauma.

I speak about my parents in the past tense.
It is an old habit,
Hard-won as the only measure
I could take to build the distance
I needed to feel alright,
But this years-long practice
Of linguistic intentionality
Has served me well
In more ways than this.

Every so often,
When I speak to someone who doesn’t know
About the history behind my words
And they notice my particular phrasing,
They offer me their sympathies.
“I’m sorry for your loss”
Or “oh, I didn’t realize…”
Sometimes even followed by
“How long has it been since they passed?”
At which point I simply explain
That they’re still alive and well,
They’re just not a part of my life anymore.

From there, the roads diverge.
Some towards silence,
Uncertain or awkward or sympathetic,
Some towards fumbling words
That all echo each other
Despite some intending empathy
And some intending gentle reproach.
I do not take it personally, though,
Since it is clear they all mean well.
My view took me decades to understand,
So what hope did they have in five minutes?

Now it only hurts on the rare occasion
When I see someone openly mourning
Or dedicating some great endeavor
In memory of a past-tense parent
And I find myself wishing
I could have grieved like this as well.
When I realized I had lost something,
It was not the people who had made me
That I found myself missing,
But the family I imagined I had,
What my life would have been
If everything had been different.

I speak to them now and again,
As a part of another’s journey,
And I feel grateful for the hours
I spent practicing intentionality
In every word that leaves my lips
Because all I really want to say is
“I have finished mourning you
And there’s nothing left in the well
That once held the childish love you twisted
Into servitude and self-sacrifice.”

I will grieve again when they pass,
But it will not be for them.
It will be for the final disappearance
Of everything I thought I wanted
Before I learned just how well
People will treat someone
That they properly care about. 

Recorded and Reposted: False Summer

It takes only a moment,
The space between whispers of wind
On a scorching September day
As the sun roasts pavement
Two feet from where shadow shelters
A wilting garden unaware
Of how little time it has left,
And the past mixes with the present.
Fingers tracing rows and lines,
Too large now to intertwine
With the holes left in the table
Made of rubber-coated steel,
But still looking for something to hold.

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Recorded and Reposted: Empty Echoes

I cannot tell if I am haunted
Or trapped in an endless reverberation.
Words from the past beat upon my mind
Again and again and again and again
Until I cannot tell if they are newly repeated
Or just bouncing around my head
Like an echo that draws strength and volume
From the walls I’ve put in place
To keep words like these out.

You spoke to me of comfort
And camaraderie in a too-late attempt
To stave off something you sense
Is growing ever closer,
A shadow you see in every mirror
But whose shape you seem unwilling to acknowledge
No matter how many times I describe it. 
These friendly words ring hollow,
Changing from your voice to mine
As I remember every time
someone said them to me,
All the louder for these echoes of the past
That refuse to be stifled,
Amplified by the utter emptiness
Of everything you said just now. 

You told me, hollow words
That I longed to fill with the rage
Welling up inside me,
That I should not suffer in silence.
But this silence was never mine to end.
The silence that has forced this empty exchange
Was a monster of your creation
And I have merely been its victim.

Hung out to dry so long ago, both I
And your vacant platitudes,
Have long since withered.
The hollowed ground I once claimed
Matches the concavity of your starved expressions
And I am left alone
Except for the indiscernible echoes
Of your words to me
As we are both reduced to rubble
By the impervious wall
Of your past silence.

Recorded and Reposted: Sleeping with the Window Open

I used to sleep with the window open.

The washed out yellow street light
Standing sentinel at the corner next to my driveway
Throws wild shadows on my shelves and walls
That are occasionally stretched into thin waving lines
As the bright pale blue light of the patrolling cop’s
Fluorescent headlights roll past my yard.
The silent murmur of the woods holds sway
Broken by a passing car on a distant highway,
The echoing sirens of a police car needed somewhere quick,
Or the mournful blare of a train lost somewhere in the hills.

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Recorded and Reposted: She Waits

She waits,
Like a mountain reaching for the sky,
Pushed up by unseen plates in an embrace
It will never know or feel,
She waits for a call
To hear a voice she knows
She may have already heard
For the last time.
She waits for comfort,
A desert cactus counting days
Since the last rain,
Pinning hope on each passing cloud
As the little water it has slowly drains.
She waits,
Breathing deeply, fighting anxiety
As each buzz of her phone,
Each ping on her computer
Resurrects hope she abandoned
When it pulled out her hair
And chewed her nails to the quick.
All I can do is stand by and watch
While she waits,
Useless words weigh down my tongue,
Empty gestures tie my arms,
And the knowledge I cannot fill
The void she feels bows my head.
She waits,
Knowing what might be lost
Cannot be replaced,
Like a dried up river
Leaves a furrow in the earth
That will linger on until
The entire world has changed.
So she waits,
Living the best she can
With one ear cocked for a sound
And one eye watching for a face,
And a smile to hide them both.