When Poetry Says It Best

When Poetry Says It Best

Image credit: Scott Vander Ploeg

Two poems dedicated to a daughter with unique challenges and gifts.

Mama, do you repeat something you want

to remember one hundred times?

Dedicated to Annelise

With the passenger window rolled down

I watch my daughter tumble out of the car,

approach the high school on her very last day.

There is no hesitation. Her hair

long and loose down her back, bounces

as she walks. She navigates the world on tiptoes.

When she was five, after shaking her hair

all over her head, she told me, My brain tells me

to slow down. Does your brain talk to you, Mama?

This is my autistic daughter who refused

to be defined. By labels. By doctors

who said she would never read. Never

write her name.

This is my daughter who tells me

I like the way the air feels

on my feet.

This is my daughter who enters

the Early On program at age three.

Yellow school bus in our driveway at 7:15.

She journeys to school with children

who negotiate the world on their own terms.

In braces. In wheelchairs. With breathing tubes.

Once seated on this truncated mini bus, I cannot

see her. Her head disappears below the bus window.

How can I send someone

so small

off to school?

I want to follow her in my van, make sure

she arrives unharmed. I want to lurk

in the rhododendron bushes outside

her classroom window, make sure she finds

her way down the path to her classroom. Want

her teacher to greet her bounding self

with wide arms and an even wider heart.

This is my daughter who will learn to play

a plastic soprano recorder in fourth grade.

Ambidextrous, she seamlessly reverses hands

in the middle of a concert.

This is my daughter who will learn all the registers

of the clarinet. Will learn to wet the reed between

her lips. Will learn to cover the octave hole

with her thumb. Notes on the page an indecipherable blur

of staff and stem. Notes floating on the page.

She plays not by eye but by ear, echoing

her music stand partner.

This is my daughter who will run

cross country. Emerge from the wooded trail

red-faced and arms pumping pushing

herself to the end of this race. Always

the last to reach her mark.

Sometimes fifteen, twenty minutes behind

her teammates. They cluster around the finishing line

banner. Cheer her on. She propels herself

across the finishing line to a standing ovation.

Nothing will be the same after today.

I fear the world will not always be this kind

to my swishy-haired daughter bounding

through the schoolhouse doors.


Prayer to the Goddess Parvati in the Ambulance Ride to Ann Arbor

Benevolent Mother Goddess of 10,008 names

Daughter of the Mountain remedy for everything

present in the water used to pound clothes clean

on rocks down be the river

present in the water carried up the mountain

jug balanced on a head level with the horizon

present in the bond that connects all beings

lend me your arms and all you hold sacred

in your four palms: prayer beads, mirror, bell, and citron.

Steady my hands

holding this intravenous line in place

on this ambulance trek to Mott’s Children’s Hospital.

I hold my daughter on this gurney.

Side boards wedge me into place. I am told

not to move. To hold still. Very still. To breathe with you

around curves, over the potholes. Easing the jarring

our bodies pressed in tight.

Forgive me. All of her veins have collapsed.

I presided over the ritual of every new line inserted.

Every time they approached her four pound body

with needles and tubes. I could not

abide an intravenous line into her scalp,

into that last desperate place

reserved when all veins have ruptured, all veins exhausted.

And so I hold her on my chest in this ambulance,

my hand pressed onto the dorsal arch vein of her hand

tethering her to the drip. A tentative connection.

Unstable and wobbling. I study the bruises

on the backs of her hands, her wrists,

the knuckle vein of her index finger,

the tender places on her forearms.

Failure to thrive

she uses more energy burns more calories

tying to consume the milk my breasts offer.

Forgive me. Suckling daughter of mine, my milk serves only to wither your skin onto your bones.

And so, my dear Goddess Parvati,

I grind your prayer beads in my teeth

splinter my tongue swallow devotion

shards in my gut set ablaze with the fire in my belly.

Ignite me.

And so, benevolent Goddess Parvati,

I place your mirror next to my daughter’s mouth,

under her nose watching for the fog of breath

condensation of breathing in and breathing out

palpitation of inhaling and exhaling.

Reassure me.

And so, my sweet Goddess Parvati,

clang your bell once every mile

one traversed another around the curve

each ring one mile closer to the saving place,

that shining hospital on the hill.

Navigate me.

And so, my healing Goddess Parvati,

I have devoured the juice of your citron

leaf juice pressed onto my new mother lips

sedative to uterine spasms

I bathe in this lemony lime balm

residue lingering in the hollow of my womb.

Calm me.

Thank you, dear Goddess,

for safe passage.

For the gift of steady hands.

I curl onto the windowsill of my daughter’s room.

But I will be awake all night long.

There will be rocking and swaying.

There will be singing and humming.

Send me angels. Please.

I am waiting by the door.

After having taught middle and high school English for 32 years, Marianne is now nurturing her own creative spirit. She has spent three summers in Guizhou Province, teaching best practices to teachers in China. She received Fulbright-Hays Awards to Nepal (2003) and Turkey (2009). Marianne participated in Marge Piercy’s Juried Intensive Poetry Workshop (2016). Marianne’s poetry appears in Muddy River Poetry Review, Belle Reve Literary Journal, Jelly Bucket Journal, among others. She has a collection of poetry forthcoming in 2020 from Shadelandhouse Modern Press.

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