everything she needs

she’s so not bothered
by the arthritis in her knee
she’s happy with her brand new glasses
cuz that means she can see

pretty fish swim in their tank
lots of meat in the freezer
she worries not about grey hair
it don’t make her an old geezer

her favourite foods are in the fridge
there’s a roof over her head
& when she wants to sleep at night
she’s got a big warm bed

she’s got a job she likes
that helps to pay the bills
& the blessing of free health care
to take care of any ills

can’t forget that lovely garden
with its sweet-smelling flowers
here she finds her greatest peace
digging & weeding for hours

does she miss her family?
hell yeah – they were there first
sometimes she misses them so much
she fears her heart will burst

but there are many folk who love her
she thinks this every day
folks whose smiles hold her up
when grief wants to stay

when her tears fall,
when there’s nightmares,
when heart breaks & bleeds,
her mother’s memory reminds her
that she has everything she needs

copyright © 2019 KPM

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funny

Home from work, safely behind a locked and chained door in my favourite fleecy Eeyore pajamas that were a Christmas gift from my best friend of 57 years and her daughter, whom I jokingly refer to as my surrogate child. It’s mid-April but this is also Dundee, so the heating is on and I’m wrapped up in the duckie blanket, a parting gift from a little boy I once taught when I worked for a nursery school in the US named Blake who was taken by social services. They came right in the classroom, flashed their ID badges and took him, right in front of me and Blake’s classmates. When I protested that they needed to wait so I could give them his naptime blanket – blue and patterned with gay white and yellow ducks – Blake said to me, “Keep it, Miz Mack….you’ll need it more than I do.”

He was four. How did he know that…how could he know that? How could he know that I would love that blanket the way I loved him, that almost 40 years later, I’d sit on a sofa wrapped in that blanket for comfort?

Funny, ain’t it.

The past two weeks, I’ve thought a lot about things that strike me as funny. They may not be funny to so-called “normal” people, but I have a quirky, offbeat sense of humour, and I well remember, during one of those arguments my Mom and I had during my teenage years Mom shaking her head at me, muttering under her breath as she left the room “why can’t you be normal?”

Funny, right?

Know what I find funny? The way people insist on labeling things, on labeling people. The way the new order – otherwise known as the PC Brigade – are now offended by everything to the point where one can no longer joke about anything. Though I suppose that could be considered more pathetic than funny.

Wanna know what else is funny to me? The way people – the way I – continue to do things long after the reason for doing them ceases to have any real purpose or meaning.

Take house cleaning. Why do I clean the way I do…mopping, vacuuming, dusting. I live alone, it’s not like I make a massive mess. Surely I can get away with house cleaning once a month instead of once a week.

Why make the bed every morning? All I’m going to do is get back in it, so why bother? The time I spend making the bed every morning could be better spent having an extra cup of coffee.

Why bother painting my nails? It’s gardening season, I’m going to get dirt under my nails, but mostly, they’re going to break, either from gardening or from opening boxes at work. In the same vein, why do I bother painting my toenails? Sandal weather isn’t that long or that steady where I live, and at my age, bending over to paint my toenails sometimes hurts. And don’t suggest asking the BF to do this: feet gross him out.

I realise there are some things that remain necessary, like laundry. Clean clothes remain a necessity, and I like – weather permitting – hanging my washing on the line outdoors.

Feeding my fish and cleaning their tank remain a necessity: I love them, and I don’t want them to die. Same with the houseplants: I bought them (though some my BF bought) and I love them, so I must care for them, even the ones that I foolishly hung from the ceiling in front of windows that require a ladder to reach.

I’d add cooking and eating to the list of necessary things, but even though I like to cook, since my Mom died there are many days when I just don’t bother: I’ve no appetite, and I’ve developed the mystifying and annoying habit of puking (involuntarily) after eating. Roy (my grief counsellor) says this is one of many side effects of grief.

What remains necessary to me is sleep. If they had an Olympics for sleeping I’d take the gold. Roy says this is also grief related, and on this I suspect he may be right: I sleep a lot, hoping to see my Mom in my dreams. Which sometimes I do, and these dreams are good, they’re comforting, they make me happy. I run home from work and jump into bed…I fall asleep on my poor BF at the weekends. Asleep, I am happy – I am safe.

As a kid, as a teenager, I was the child who slept a lot. Mom used to always tease me that I was sleeping my life away.

Funny, ain’t it.

harder

it would be a hard task
ripping off that mask
unsure if she’s ready to share
certain that no one would care

new lines in her face point down,
down
grief makes her tired
it makes her frown

there’s no one
to apportion blame to
she’d ask for help
but she’s ashamed to

is she mad? she wonders,
are strangers really staring?
such a burden this is,
a load she’s tired of bearing

how long in the ground
before a body grows cold?
sorrow seductively questions
the point of growing old

lines deepen around her eyes,
eyes
that saw a bright future,
now dimmed by daily cries

copyright © 2019 KPM

long time’ comin’

lassitude lies heavy
her own private laissez-faire
the fibre optics twinkle
tree’s pretty, but she don’t care

it’s that old song
about the tears of a clown
the smiles she shares are fake
all alone, she melts down

‘n the ache in her chest
is a banjo strummin’
hidin’ in the loo at work
wipin’ tears a long time comin’

there’s food in the fridge
(thanks to a boyfriend who’s too good)
all too often she’s not hungry –
she don’t eat the way she should

she’s a shadow; a woeful wraith
of her former self
there’s no Christmas card from Mom
so fuck a elf on a shelf

‘n the pain in her head is endless
neuralgia’s relentless thrummin’
all alone she weeps
bitter tears that just keep comin’

copyright © 2018 KPM

Firsts

Today marks one year since my Mom passed. It’s raining in my bonnie Dundee – appropriate, as it rained – a proper thunderstorm – the day my Mom died.

The year has been a hard one; I can’t believe I’m still here. It’s been a year of neuralgia and nightmares (when I’m not in the grip of insomnia) where I awaken myself screaming and crying, where I awaken my poor partner because I’ve been shouting and hitting him in my sleep. A year of forgetfulness: forgetting to feed my fish, running to the bathroom three times in the morning to put on deodorant because I can’t remember if I put any on. Talking to people and stopping because my mind has suddenly gone blank. A year of puking after eating. A year of therapy and various antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds.

It’s the news of yet another death that sends you into a total meltdown and you don’t want to think and you can’t bear what you’re feeling and you just wanna sleep so you take one pill and then another and another and a few different ones and drink some gin and your friend’s been trying to reach you for hours so you’re awakened by the sound of the police shouting your name as they bang on your living room window. “I didn’t really want to die, Officer….I just wanted my head to be quiet for awhile.”

A year of “firsts” you never wanted: the first birthday I didn’t get a card from her; the first time I couldn’t send her a card for her birthday, Mother’s Day, Christmas. The constant assault on my memory: making spaghetti for tea and remembering how I made spaghetti for Mom. Walking down King Street in Broughty Ferry and remembering taking Mom there when she visited Scotland and her delight in everything. The daily agony of coming home from work at the end of each day and rifling through the mail and none of the envelopes bear that familiar handwriting.

It’s fear. Not for yourself, cause you’ve become indifferent to anything that may happen to you, but fear of losing someone else you love. So you make your partner crazy: why are you coughing like that? Why are you limping – what’s that mark on your arm? It’s praying to a God you’re no longer sure you believe in to keep your brother and your sisters and everyone in your Cleveland family and Dundee family safe.

It’s trying desperately to function “normally”. Work, clean the house, cut the grass, talk to people. It’s Skyping with your best friend’s daughter and having her tell you “It’s good to see you smile, Aunty Kathy.”

“I smile,” you protest, shocked. Surely you smile …don’t you smile at people at work every day?

“It’s not the same smile,” she says. “It’s not in your eyes anymore.”

And time continues to pass, and you wake up on a rainy Saturday in Dundee and it’s been one year since your Mother squeezed your hand for the last time.

I miss you, Ma.

 

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

mornin’ prayers

naked I stand
before my father
‘s another dreich day
‘n I’m wonderin’ “why bother?”

in the shower
I try to pray
will this soap & water
will wash my sins away?

naked before my father
I dress to the sound of rain
do they make clothes to cover
heartache or pain?

Springsteen blarin’
from the speakers
as I try to decide
between boots or sneakers

heavenly,
the sound of that saxophone
my heart throbs
with memories of home

in front of my father
naked I stand
gazin’ into the mirror
I behold a jungle land

copyright © 2017 KPM

lost

still grieving,
worried about her overdraft
she feels unsettled,
in need of a life raft

she’s drinkin’ too much
hours she spends, sleepin’
awakening to discover
in her dreams she’s been weepin’

tormented daily
by Satan’s inquisitor
all alone she longs
for someone to visit her

it’s been a week
since her mobile rang
& everyday she jumps
at the mail slot’s clang

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.

 

a poem for Jourdy

“she’s mine” you smiled
with gritted teeth
“I got her” you said
all steel underneath

you saw my heart was breaking
you got that the rain was too loud
you musta known I couldn’t take it
that sympathetic, well-meaning crowd

“I got this”
pulling my arm as you insisted
that everyone leave me alone
to my surprise, no one resisted

so tight you held onto me
with one youthful, tattooed arm
in that moment I was grateful
I knew you’d keep me safe from harm

so long have you loved me
when did that begin?
why do you love me so?
when we’re not blood – we’ve different skin

yet on the day of the funeral,
a horrid, slow-motion blur
you stood at my side
a warrior you were

many have said they love me
but they ignored me when I cried
so many people claimed to love me
but it turned out they lied

many have said they love me
in my 59 years
on the worst day of my life you said it
as you wiped my tears

unconditional is your love
on that day, you showed your care
I’ll always love you, Jourdy
cause on that day, you were there

copyright © 2017 KPM