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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.