Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from March, 2022.
I. cardiffian, n.
I start my day watching river water flow into the bay.
II. barley sugar, n.
A candy shop by the footbridge switches its sign from closed to open. The display case filled with fudge, hard candies my mom would like. I consider buying them, before remembering she’s gone.
III. beastie, n.
A dog walks by that looks like hers. No matter how far I travel, I cannot escape her memory.
IV. interrrobang, n.
I keep landing on inconsequential memories, not ones with thematic resonance or impactful consequences. Why do I keep thinking about the time her tea kettle vibrated on the element, her worried exclamation asking me what I did, her laugh afterward scolding herself for jumping to conclusions?
V. toyetic, adj.
I used to run across the house barefoot on Saturday mornings to beat her to the tv so I could watch cartoons. She’d bring me breakfast, which I’d absent-mindedly ignore while children would command small monsters to attack each other.
VI. kente, n.
I head back to my hotel; wrap her urn in a cloth made by her best friend, gifted at her memorial back home; place it in my backpack to take her on a Dr. Who walking tour — something she asked for in the hospital.
VII. anythingarian, n.
As I walk from landmark to landmark, I debate what to do with her ashes. She told me many different ideas, locations, never settling.
VIII. chipmunk, n. and adj.
During a break for lunch, a chipmunk approaches my table outside the cafe, looks me dead in the eye. I see her. In those eyes. It’s like she’s sending me a message.
IX. bandulu, n. and adj.
A voice emits from the eyes. “Rialto Beach. Scatter me on the rocky shore.” I open the permit application when I get back to my hotel, but the letters blur, the boxes checker. I book a flight back home. I’ll just go the coast and do the thing.
X. zombocalypse, n.
People walk around the airport like packages on a conveyor belt. I sit alone by my gate in an uncomfortable pleather chair when someone walks toward me, sits in the seat right next to me. It is my mother.
XI. cuddy wifter, n.
A notepad appears on her lap, a pen in her left hand. She draws quick lines to make feathers of a great blue heron standing in a still pond. “I want so much to be at peace.” Her voice a tired drawl.
XII. amaxophobia, n.
The ceiling dings. An announcement about my flight boarding soon. “I can’t believe you flew my ashes across the planet. You know I hate flying.” “You said you wanted to see the places in Dr. Who. And it was a walking tour.” “You can’t believe everything a dying woman tells you.”
XIII. bassa-bassa, n.
The ceiling dings. My boarding group is called. She stands before I do, stomps her feet, yells at me for putting her through this. People walk through her as she screams.
XIV. belove, n.
She continues to guilt me as I walk through the skybridge, down the aisle to my seat near the back of the plane. I’m sure she will go on for the whole ten hours until we land in Seattle. I will do whatever is needed to give her peace. It’s what a son should do.
XV. overshare, v.
My guilt is immense. Guilt about making her travel; guilt if I hadn't traveled in the first place. There is no winning. My guilt is immense.
XVI. utopiate, n.
My ZzzQuil kicks in somewhere over the Atlantic; I fall asleep. My feet bare, toes dug into the edge of sand pulled under by the surf. Soft wind, quiet roar, the sun behind a pale canvas of clouds.
XVII. flaithulach, adj.
The last time my mom saw the coast — winter — a last escape before chemo kept her homebound. She stood on driftwood logs, arms wide, a deep breath of salty air. Ocean spray or tears, I’m unsure.
XVIII. powfagged, adj.
An overhead announcement of our imminent arrival in Seattle wakes me. My eyes struggle open. My mom's voice crescendos as blurs transition into shapes. She scolds me for falling asleep while she was talking.
XIX. credentialism, n.
Baggage claim, she draws me in a graduation robe, holding a diploma cover. “I wish I could have seen it.” “Me too.” “You shouldn’t have taken that semester off.” “I had to. You are more important than a piece of paper.” “I was dying. That ‘piece of paper’ would have been your key to a successful future.”
XX. bestiary, n.
I wait for my Uber in the parking garage. Midmorning, the smell of concrete and gasoline. Five Subarus drive by ten people and one ghost waiting for their getaways. A blue Prius pulls up. The driver leans their purple hair out of the window to announce my name. They offer to help with my suitcase, but I decline, placing it in the backseat, until my mom mutters under her breath. I put it in the trunk.
XXI. wych elm, n.
The driver makes small talk while my mom complains about how everything’s changed. They stop the car just past the driveway under the tree in our front yard whose branches leave a fluctuating pattern on the hood. I transfer luggage from their car to mine while my mom taps her foot, stares at the mailboxes down the road.
XXII. free solo, n.
I take 512 to I-5 to 101 for a beat, route 8 to 12, then back to 101, but clockwise, along the coast — the sun sinks into the pacific. She watches it all in silence.
XXIII. siu mei, n.
The full moon exposes a near-empty parking lot. The rocky shore tinted blue, except for an orange spot at the driftwood’s edge. A family sits on logs around it, laughing, singing.
XXIV. light fantastic, n.
My mom walks over the logs to the wet sand — no footprints — and dances to the singing family.
XXV. imagineer, n.
I wake up to an overcast sky — a matte canvas behind my fogged windshield. My mom's urn secure in my backpack beneath the passenger seat. It’s time for her final walk along the coast.
XXVI. archaeobotanist, n.
“Before you were born, your father drove us out here for a weekend in the summer. Rialto was pretty unknown back then — hardly any other people were walking the shore. You could really hear the waves crash and the rocks shuffle beneath your feet. “We sat on a log right around here for a break halfway to Hole in the Wall, and I just stared at the horizon. The crashing waves surrounded me. Then your father, that sweet man, put this flower in my lap — looked like a paintbrush imbued with fire — so orange, so warm. “I kept that flower in a notebook for years. I pressed it between the pages I wrote about the trip. “I never wanted to forget.”
XXVII. dayside, n. and adj.
After a rest, Hole in the Wall in sight, I take her urn out of my backpack. It feels like she would want to see it approach, feel the sun one last time.
XXVIII. saketini, n.
She squats over a tide pool to poke a crab hiding under an anemone. It flinches, untouched. She laughs. “Yes,” a sigh, “That’s what I needed.”
XXIX. chip, v.
The rock juts out into the water. Hole in the Wall, an arch at its end. Tide’s coming in; I have to move fast. I step around tide pool edges barefoot, quickly, before they’re buried.
XXX. monophobia, n.
Under the arch, anemones sway in tide pools sloshed by the incoming tide. I hesitate. Her urn, opened, in my hands. I know I need to. I know she needs it. But what will happen? What will happen when she is finally gone?
XXXI. jeune premier, n.
I scatter her ashes along the tide pools on the north side of Hole in the Wall. I look south to her standing on the other side. She walks toward me through the arch, dissolves in beads of light, which expand to the Hole’s rim, fade to an overcast sky.
5 thoughts on “A Mutual Aching to Leave”
What a lovely idea. These make interesting writing prompts.
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I like the process of writing these a lot, because even when I have a basic structure of a story in mind, the next word could take everything in a different direction. It kinda feels like jazz to me, if that makes sense. The randomness adds an element of excitement, and having to stir the ideas around for days makes things feel more clear.
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I may try something similar with a group I moderate. Maybe throw out a word per day and ask them to write a poem about the word, or using the word.
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That’s a great idea! That would be fun!
Who is this man? Who takes you away from me? asks my wife.
I go to the doctor; you go take coffee and read poetry!
All is well in both these worlds.
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