please observe the speed limit

these days
all her thoughts
are runaway trains
destination
nightmarish plains

reflections speeding
with a will
of their own
stopping at stations
largely unknown

the engine
struggles to pull
numerous cars
overloaded
with uncounted scars

a locomotive
barrelling
down a dull track
unable to reverse
no way to turn back

copyright © 2020 KPM

rules for wraiths & other lost souls

no one knows you’re a ghost
your body they can’t see through
they wouldn’t believe it anyway
so there’s still stuff you hafta do

you gotta get up in the morning
get dressed, make the bed
put your smiley face on
quell the voices in your head

you gotta go to work
cause there’s always bills to pay
pretend to be a “normal” person
despite the grief that darkens each day

you must interact with people
though from society you’d rather retreat
& at certain times of day
you force yourself to eat

you’ve no need (or desire) for food
there’s no wish to dine or sup
cooking’s such a waste of time
when all you swallow comes back up

so you work & cook & clean
feed the fish & watch TV
& every show awakens guilt
from which you cannot flee

you’re a ghost of who you were
the old you has been erased
who is this crazy woman,
by memory constantly chased?

forward the time goes
marching through a winter gray
take it one step at a time
things just might turn out okay

copyright © 2018 KPM

love travels

deep & sincere
no drama-school act
it’s vast, her love
yet portable & compact

it dwells in her hair
memory & care
it travels on the air
it’s always there

the blood of her childhood
a flow that never ends
thru veins, marrow & music
travel family & friends

an unbroken chain
sweet as sugar cane
love that does not wane
imprinted on her brain

photos at picnics
laughter, hugs & kisses
a woman with two homes
she thinks of all she misses

the Scottish sun shines gold
she remembers being bold
stripped of her blindfold,
from guilt & grief she’ll be paroled

copyright © 2017 KPM

makin’ tea for John

my baby likes to eat
but on Friday nights, when he’s beat
he likes it light
so I try to do it up right

I play CDs while I wait
dancin’ as I make up a cold plate
done, I’m like “girl, look at you –
that looks like a plate your Mama would do!”

& that makes me smile
(& I cry for a little while)
but I stop, cuz dude’ll soon be here
need to think of other things to serve to my dear

pre-heat the oven, I get out the dishes
still smilin’ & musin’ on old wishes
pizza, crab claws, fish goujons
yeah, me & bae’ll get our eat on

another summer Friday night
(& in my mind I see Mommy, framed by sunlight)
I wait for John, dance to Stanley Clarke
with a heart that – for now – has banished the dark

copyright © 2017 KPM

96 days

When someone you love dies – especially when your mother dies – you lose yourself. And time stops. And if you’re an immigrant, when you’re the child – who for whatever reason left their family, their homeland, their siblings & friends – the moment of your mother’s death stops at the last moment you saw her, when you she hugged you until your arms went numb, the last time she covered you with her favourite blanket, the last sandwich she made for you, the last time she kissed your cheek after telling you how much she loved you.

When someone you love dies – especially when it’s your mom – you are faced with “firsts”. The first time she has a birthday: my mom passed away three weeks before her 82nd birthday, and the birthday card I bought for her remains on the desk in my home office…if I bin it, it will be admitting something I am still struggling to deal with. Somehow, I managed to get thorough the first birthday of my Mom following her death. I made it through Mother’s Day, too.

A summer baby, I was facing a particularly painful “first”: my first birthday without my mother. And as I live abroad, it means Mommy sent my card and present through the mail. Aware that this birthday would be hard for me, all my birthday cards and presents from my family and friends arrived early this year except for the card from my brother, which arrived on the day. And with each clang of the mail slot, my heart leapt, thinking, “That’ll be from Mommy” before my brain caught up. So in the run-up to my birthday, I was wired – which understandably had my BF and many of my friends worried.

But something amazing happened that day. The morning of my birthday I woke up and I felt light – like a happy balloon floating across the sky. That morning, I awakened to sunshine. All the rooms in my wee flat were awash in sunshine. And I thought, “Mommy.” I knew that was Mommy, giving me a sunny day for my birthday. So I hurriedly showered and dressed and went out into my garden.

And I could feel her. My sisters had told me they’d felt Mommy’s presence since her passing, but I had not; I only saw her in my dreams, so I had been fervently praying to God to let me feel her, too. On my birthday, standing in my garden, I felt her all around me – in the sun on my face, the wind on my bare arms and legs, the flowers gave off my mother’s scent. I felt her inside of me, in my chest and my stomach and my heart, and for the first time since her death, I felt calm. Peaceful. Even happy.

This year my birthday was on a Friday – Saturday and Sunday were hot and sunny days as well. My Mom – perhaps working through or with God – seeing that her child was unhappy, gave me the gift of a beautiful weekend for my birthday. Sunshine as warm as her arms around me.

And it was a good birthday. I sang and danced and pigged out on the special meal my BF had made for me. I remembered my mother without tears, reminded that as her firstborn, the day she had me was one of the proudest moments of her life. I realised that Mommy’s love will never leave me – it and she will always be with me.

That feeling has remained with me, even as I ache for my brother and sisters, who are facing a “first” without me: the first family 4th of July barbecue and attendant celebrations without Mommy present. The 4th is the biggest of the summer celebrations in the US. I can feel their pain, because – even though I live in Scotland – I still celebrate the 4th with my partner.

But not this year. This year, I will get no letter from Mommy with the usual photos of the barbecue – my sister will not share photos of Mommy enjoying the barbecue surrounded by her grandchildren and great-grandchildren on Facebook.

Still, Mommy is with me. So although I’m not celebrating the 4th, I am remembering and celebrating the love she dispensed to her children and everyone who was fortunate enough to know her.

 

ghosts

they’re relentless, those ghosts
oft unwelcome by their hosts
but she doesn’t mind:
calls them all by their names
puts their faces on display
in expensive photo frames

these ghosts are often cruel
they break every rule
but she deals with it:
when they kick down her door
she quickly repairs it –
just another household chore

her ghosts are resolute
never are they mute
but she no longer cares:
she knows how to carry on
one foot in front of the other
until they’ve all gone

copyright © 2017 KPM

the wages of grief

I’m wide awake. It’s 5:30am, and sunlight is streaming through my heavy bedroom curtains. The light turns the edges of everything in my bedroom into soft wavy lines; I get up and make my bed, moving zombie-like through dancing shafts of early morning sunlight like liquid butter.

My mother is dead.

There, I said it. Well, wrote it. And seeing the words so starkly written like that has given me a severe stomach cramp.

My mother has been dead for 47 days.

Not that I’m counting. It’s like I’m helpless to not count – my brain makes an automatic tally each day I awaken. Like the way I can tell people when they ask exactly how long I’ve lived in Dundee…my memory has always been good with dates like that.

Right now, I’m being tyrannized by memory and experience. I made spaghetti for tea this past Monday. I love spaghetti. That question if you were on a desert island and could only take one book, one friend and eat one thing? I’d eat spaghetti – my spaghetti, it’s one of the few things I make amazingly well.

So I’m making the spaghetti: chopping the green peppers, the onions, the courgettes, the mushrooms. Preparing the sauce. And suddenly I’m in my Mom’s kitchen, a few days after her 80th birthday. She’s making me fried chicken and teasing me: “You’ll be cooking for me tomorrow night – I want some spaghetti.” And suddenly I was crying, my tears falling into the spaghetti sauce. Hey, tears are salty – added flavour, right?

I ate it. “Don’t you waste that food,” I hear Mommy saying. “Plenty of people don’t have enough to eat, so don’t waste food.” I ate my spaghetti – it tasted like dirt. An hour later I threw it back up. Wasteful.

Yesterday morning I was walking to work. As I passed the High School of Dundee, a white van with a plumber’s logo parked alongside the curb. A beautiful girl in a hijab climbed out one side, and a woman who was obviously her mother climbed out the other side. The mother adjusted her daughter’s uniform, smoothed her daughter’s hijab, planted a kiss on her child’s cheek, then drove away. The daughter stood there until the van was out of sight, then she pulled the hijab off her head, stuffing it into her backpack and shaking her long hair out before disappearing through the doors of the school.

And I remembered my mother: “You’re 14 – you are not wearing make-up. You can wear make-up when you’re 16, not before. And don’t even think about wearing that halter top to school!” And I grumbled and muttered under my breath as I kissed her goodbye. Arriving at school, I headed straight to the bathroom, where I removed the halter top and the make-up from my book bag and put them on, along with other girls lined up in front of the sink who were doing the same thing. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

My grief is a live thing; anaconda-like, it constantly strangles me. It affects me in myriad physical ways. I’ll remove an item from my purse, a dresser drawer, a kitchen cabinet, only to stand there for 10 minutes holding the item in my hand: why did I remove it – what did I want this for? In conversation with someone, I’ll suddenly stop speaking, having totally forgotten what it was I was saying. My sleep patterns are all askew: sometimes I’ll sleep through the night (usually with the aid of the sleeping pills my GP has given me), sometimes I’ll sleep 1-2 hours only to awaken, bolt upright in bed, unable to get back to sleep. Box sets come in handy at those times.

People don’t want to talk to you when you’re grieving. They avoid you, as if grief is a communicable disease. My friend Roz (now sadly deceased) once described me in a letter of recommendation she wrote on my behalf as “brutally honest”. This could be a factor in why some people avoid me now, as when they ask the question, “How are you doing?” I tell them the truth: “I am all fucked-up…I can’t get my head around this and I have no clue what I’m doing…I barely know what day it is.”

My partner of eight years recently told me that grief affects other people. And I realize he’s right. But how am I supposed to stop grieving? And why should I stop – her loss is still so new – she was my mother, surely I have a right to grieve?

Grief is not contagious. Sometimes, for people who are grieving, talking helps them. When you can’t talk about the person, when you can’t feel that person’s loss, then you are prevented from moving through the pain. And if you can’t move through it, you can’t begin to heal.

In an odd way, I thought I would find comfort in Dundee. I thought, when I returned to Dundee following Mommy’s funeral, that I would feel a little better. America has become a foreign landscape to me, especially now that 45 is in power (blog for another day). I was sure that when I returned to Scotland – the hills, the River Tay, the quality of the light in the early morning, my wee flat and my garden – would all act as a balm on my shattered soul.

Instead, the memory box opened. I walk past the McManus Galleries, and remember taking Mom on a tour when she visited. I take a shortcut through the Overgate on a rainy day, and remember the day we went on a shopping spree. I see a box of Weetabix on a shelf in Tesco’s, and remember Mom eating that for her breakfast: “This tastes just like Shredded Wheat!” she marvelled.

“Give time, time,” people tell me. “Time heals all wounds,” they say. Clichés that may be true. Right now, time is torturing me.

One of my friends – I can’t remember who – sent me a sympathy card not long after Mommy died. In the card was a slip of paper, with typed words which read:

“The angels are always near to those that are grieving, to whisper to them that their loved ones are safe in the hand of God.”

I like that. I want to believe that. Sadly, I find I am unable to believe in anything right now…not even myself.

copyright (c) 2017 KPM

as October approaches

as she labours beneath
a bright September sky
she realises it’s truly autumn
& tells herself she will not cry
because the days grow shorter
because guilty thoughts berate
because the anniversary approaches
of an event which changed her fate

her face is blank
as she diligently pulls the weeds
trying her hardest to forget
those last unkind words & deeds
because she cannot bear it,
that memory of how she cried
flashbacks of the ringing phone
which brought the news of how he’d died

she’s determined to be happy
as she cuts her patch of grass
though fleetingly she wonders
how many years must pass
before her guilt is erased
before grief makes its retreat
before his face fades from her dreams
& her atonement is complete

copyright © 2015 KPM

as October approaches