A Gap Where You Used to Be

Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from August, 2022.

I. dining room, n.

Long, rectangular table.
Six chairs, all taken
but one—
yours.

II. administrivia, n.

I know you know
what you’re doing, and
you know I know
you’re capable of caring of yourself, but
you also know
I worry.

III. hanbok, n.

I remember when
they announced your name—
you walked across the stage,
they gave you a case for your diploma,
you shook your principal’s hand.
I was so proud of you.

IV. railipotent, adj.

So, why don’t you talk to me anymore?
Was I so bad to you?
Raising you the way I did?
You’re grown up at college now
and don’t need your mother?

V. belukar, n.

I guess—
I just thought—
I know we didn’t talk much
for a while,
but after moving out,
maybe you’d reach out more.

VI. clear-cut, n.

There was something in your eyes
when we said goodbye to you
after helping you move into your dorm.
I hoped I was imagining it,
but the truth lies
in your silence.

VII. pinguinitescent, adj.

Do you remember
the soccer season banquet
when you were seven?

You ate too much pizza,
deciding you were old enough
to fill your own plate
at the buffet.

The picture of you, your pizza-covered face,
your coach and trophy, hangs
in the living room by the window.

VIII. poddle, v.

On Sundays, we all
walk to the park by the lake,
with a gap

where you used to be.

IX. chiptune, n.

We used to play
the Legend of Zelda —
well, you’d play it,
I’d listen to you tell me about it —
after you finished your homework.

We were
so much closer
then.

X. dogfood, v.

I’ve tried reaching out
to you
several times,
but deleted the message
each time.

Practicing each sentence
with possible tones
you may put on them.

There are too many variables,
and I don’t want to be a burden.

XI. reginal, adj.

I work all day,
care for your siblings.
I’ve always done
my best.
I deserve more respect
than this.

XII. muso, n.

I drink my morning coffee
across the living room
from your piano.

I miss the songs you’d play
as I got home from work,
your smile.

XIII. chipperness, n.

I put on a smile
when Janet sees me
examining coffee creamer
at Safeway.

She asks how you’re doing
at Western.

I tell her some vague stories,
based on movies I’ve seen,
and how proud I am of you,
based on reality.

XIV. abacist, n.

Maybe you’re just busy
with your classes, new friends.

Maybe you need to stand on your own
and don’t want your mom holding you down.

Maybe I didn’t react the right way
when you came out to me.

XV. maleficate, v.

You used to come to me
for advice,
until you started hanging out with
that boy.

All of a sudden, I was
always wrong
and you started building a wall
between us.

XVI. fáinne, n.

I just don’t get it.

I donated to that Trevor Project
you always post about.
I got one of those
rainbow borders for my profile picture.

I don’t know
what else you want.

XVII. simpulum, n.

I lit a candle
for you
under the stained-glass window 
at church
so that God could hear me
and steer you back
to me.

XVIII. buddha dharma, n.

Some may say
I should act with compassion,
give you time; 
you will reach out
when you’re ready.

They don’t know
the pain
gnawing at my ribs.

XIX. passionable, adj.

I’m an emotional person.
You know that.

Yes, I cried
when you told me.
Yes, I realize
that upset you.

But, it felt like
the futures for you in my head
died, turned to ash
like those snake fireworks.

It took me time to understand,
but I still love you.

XX. ecopoiesis, n.

So, I may have told Janet
you have a girlfriend.

I didn’t quite realize it, but really,
it’s easier this way—
you know how she talks
with the other church ladies.

I just don’t think
they’d be able to handle the idea 
one of the boys they taught catechism to
is gay.

You would understand,
wouldn’t you?

XXI. rhyparography, n.

I was cleaning your room — I swear —
and I came across an old shoebox
with that boy’s name on it.
I’m sorry, I looked;
I couldn’t help it.
It was full of notes he wrote to you.
I didn’t even know
kids still passed paper notes.
Such beautiful handwriting of
such filthy language.

XXII. ankimo, n.

Yesterday was your birthday,
we had your favorite dinner in your honor,
and Western emailed me that tomorrow
is Family Weekend.

The signs were all there:
I have to drive up to see you.

XXIII. muskoka chair, n.

Your father won’t come with me.

He says he can’t get time off
from the hospital
and also that me going is a bad idea.

He was repotting the monstera
he allowed to take over
that chair from his garden.

He just doesn’t get it.

XXIV. mamaguy, v.

As I back out of the driveway,
go through the labyrinth
of our neighborhood,
I brainstorm
what to say to you when I get there.

A joke, maybe, a nickname
from your childhood,
when we were close.
Maybe that’ll bridge the gap,
since I didn’t call you beforehand.

XXV. amakhosi, n.

North on 167, I drive by
the huge hill in Auburn 
we used to live on,
the arena they built
over the field your track meets were on,
the bowling alley
we had your birthday parties at.

XXVI. coboss, int.

405 is jammed,
more than usual.
Probably
other families
going to Western to see
their kids 
who actually tell them 
what’s going on in their lives.

XXVII. dark side, n.

The signs were always there, I guess,
like the absence of birds before a storm.

Your first grade teacher called one day,
saying you were hugging another boy
and smelling his hair.

I talked to you about it,
thinking it was a personal-bubble
misunderstanding.

I should have
paid better attention
to what they told you in school.

Why would you do this
to me?

XXVIII. curatorium, n.

Anger froths
like baking soda and vinegar.

It was probably
those grooming teachers
poisoning your mind.

That boy
or your friends
tearing you away from me.

Those shady social networks
with their algorithms 
twisting the knife.

Why else would you end up this way?
Why else would you stop talking to me?

XXIX. birdikin, n.

You were
so precious
when you were younger,
so fragile—
when you were my child.

What happened? What
went wrong? What could
I have done differently?

XXX. wabi-sabi, adj. and n.

You are still my son.
You are worth my time.
You are worth
saving.

A line of dominoes
tumbles up my spine.
I pull over to the shoulder,
put the car in park.

Why do I see you as
imperfect?
When did I come to that
conclusion?

XXXI. scooptram, n.

You don’t want to see me.
I can’t blame you, because
I never really saw you.

On the edge of Mount Vernon,
I watch cars
cross the Skagit River bridge,
the one that collapsed
when you were young.

They drive by
unflinching,
leave me behind.

2 thoughts on “A Gap Where You Used to Be

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