Inside Out

Joan Baranow PhD is a Professor of English at Dominican University in California.

This poem appears in her forthcoming book, “A Slight Thing, Happiness” (Saint Julian Press 2022).

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Inside Out

I think of your bones dismantled in the sodden box,

your flesh completely eaten, dissolved, an apparatus

not you but just a sketch of human form,

so now I can imagine you as you were before, in life, intact,

wading the warm sandbars with grandkids at the Cape

or holding our dying cat on your lap, combing his matted fur.

While you were still in denial we drove to the marina

where you fancied a houseboat family reunion next year

beyond when would be – what was – your death.

You drove the clunky van, pointing out the rolled down window,

for by then the tumor had wasted your strength, it was hard to walk,

though you pretended health for my sake.

I think of weeks wasted at a stretch not calling you,

wishing you would call. Too late to know that’s not

how I should have loved you. Too late to know

this poem is useless undeliverable.

You preferred cheap tennis shoes, weak black coffee, plastic dishware,

you went into the world at sixteen

to be married, to be a mother, defying your mother

with simple hopes that none of these facts can evince,

your imprint on the earth so slight, so easily wiped away

a handheld brush could do it, no matter what I scrawl.

None of us was there to assist your passing from one world

to the next, as you had done for us in your young glory.

Even now I can hear you scoff at glory. Joan, you said,

it happens to you, like being turned inside out.

Is that what it’s like? What life does to us, forcing us to unfold?

Grieving, bereft, we’re left on this earth to watch

as mothers pass from speech unto death,

too late for last words, words like unsent letters clasped to the chest.

This poem appears in her forthcoming collection of poetry, “A Slight Thing, Happiness” (Saint Julian Press 2022).

It is currently available for preorder.

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