Future Versions of You

I saw a version of you
on a cave tour in South Dakota.
Middle-aged.
Three kids, all with your red hair.
A husband with a circle beard.
An accent from a place you would have stayed closeted.
While ascending 300 steps from our tour’s destination,
you joked about not needing a Stairmaster
if you just lived above a cave.

I saw a version of you
in a national park gift shop.
Late-twenties.
Round, thin-rimmed glasses.
Two older people with you,
maybe members of your extended family
or the people who took you in.
A purple dress with neon-green bats
indicative of a family that let you be different.

I saw a version of you
at an overlook above some badlands.
You were with a photographer,
a graduation photoshoot.
A shirt from an 80s band
under a cardigan two sizes too big.
A dandelion twirled between your fingers.
You looked like you.
You looked happy.

The forest fire outside our house

I lie in bed and turn my head
to see your face illuminated by
the forest fire outside our house.

I ask if you need anything at the store,
since I plan on going after work tomorrow
to get some bread and apples.

You blink a few times, shake your head,
say you’re not sure, too tired to think,
but will tell me if you think of anything.

I kiss you goodnight, tell my phone
to close the curtains, block the growing light from
the forest fire outside our house.

Sunrise at Bryce Canyon

You're on the edge of a plateau overlooking a valley of hoodoos
dusted with remnants of yesterday's snowfall.
Predawn light is faint, cold; the air shivers in short gusts of wind.

In a century, the platform your feet are on will not be there,
eroded by air and water down the cliff face's arches
like frames of a cathedral's stained glass windows.

You live your life like nothing happened.

After Gifts of the Crow, by John Marzluff and Tony Angell.

I cannot forget. 

Whenever I walk by a blue Camry,
your voice replays in my head —
each hoarse syllable.
I see your face in
every cedar branch,
every streetlamp aura.

I cannot forget.

I’ve tried waiting years,
traveling as far as I can
from you —
but the past always comes back
like the tide on the shore.

I cannot forget.

I want to scream
every well-practiced retort
I’ve bottled up —
but they all come out as
one guttural shout.

I cannot forget.

They start the meeting with a breathing exercise.

“Take a deep breath in,” their voice echoes
from a speaker above your head, “and out.”
When was the last time you were able to breathe deeply?

Everyone else closes their eyes, breathes
synchronized and slow.
How do they do it so easily?

Your shoulders are tight as piano wire.
They say to inhale light, exhale negativity. 
What if doing that leaves nothing left?

Your eyes dart around the room
between each calm face — you are alone.
Why can’t you be like them?

Why did they invite you here in the first place?

A Mutual Aching to Leave

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.

Odds & Evens

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

I. bak kwa, n.

A new year, another long day
corralling teenagers into
an English class reading a book
half of them won’t open.

Stayed late again, grading essays,
finalizing semester grades.
The smell of pork in our foyer
from the dinner you’re cooking.

II. crafternoon, n.

You’ve been working late,
like every other January.
The sun sets before you’re home —
before you even start driving,
I’m sure. I created a sun
using some tissue paper from
the tub of wrapping stuff in the closet,
hang it over the gas fireplace, switched on,
so you could bask in its warmth.

III. haterade, n.

For 15 minutes, I ramble
about the grading system erroring out
all afternoon,
making me hand-enter each grade
for my 170 students.

You listen patiently
to complaints I’ve made
so many times before.

IV. orthogonally, adv.

After I place food on the table,
you take your usual seat
on the side of the table to my right —
the same seat you took
on our first date years ago,
saying that
the seat directly across from me
would be too far away.

V. shakebuckler, n.

I finally stop talking and
ask about your day.

You talk about the traffic downtown
on your way to city hall,
an argument you had with
Councilmember Meyers
about building better infrastructure
for busses and bikes around town.
“He said to me, no joke,
‘You bring this issue up
at every damn council meeting.
We simply don’t have the funds.’
And then, when I brought up
last year’s increase to police funding,
he slapped the folder out of my hand!”

VI. antiquating, n.

Meyers has been
— and always will be —
stuck in the past.
I’ve argued with him
— constantly —
throughout my entire tenure
on city council.

VII. oojamaflip, n.

There’s a term you always use
to describe Councilmember Meyers
that I can never remember
until you say it again.

The memory plays back,
but the audio muffles.
I see your smile, I hear our laughter,
but I can’t hear the word.

VIII. froideur, n.

I continue,
“It’s like he can’t even entertain the idea
he might be wrong or
should change course
ever. He just double-downs on
every. single. issue.
Even Louis Armstrong would call him
a moldy fig.”

You laugh.

IX. chicken finger, n.

Some students eat in my room at lunch —
the commons’s chaos too much for them.
They carry little cardboard bowls,
small cartons of chocolate milk.
We talk while we eat, and
they ask about you.
When I tell them about
your infrastructure bill
and Councilmember Meyers,
they are as heated as you were
at dinner last night.
They ask if they can do anything to help,
and I get an idea.

X. chopsy, adj.

Meyers gives a longwinded speech
at our next council meeting —
the first Monday of February.
His prattling is punctuated
by his wrinkled cheeks shaking
every time he sneers the word
“homeless.”

XI. bonze, n.

My class’s next unit
focuses on world religions,
so I invited a priest
from the Buddhist temple across town
to talk to my kids.

They talked about
community.

XII. japchae, n.

I take a long lunch
after the morning session —
long, because of the time it takes
to get to my favorite Korean restaurant across town, both
by foot (because of the distance)
or car (because of the traffic),
which are the only viable methods of travel
due to the inaction of city council.

XIII. rakeshame, n.

Kids tend to talk in simplified terms —
good people, bad people,
nothing in between.
So when my lunch group talks about
organizing a protest,
I have to remind them
(albeit begrudgingly)
that Councilmember Meyers is a person,
not a monster.

XIV. passado, n.

The restaurant is empty,
like most days,
despite signage outside detailing
their deals,
their signature dishes.
They greet me by name (and title).
I watch car after car
pass by.

XV. maple leaf, n.

The season’s last leaf whimpers
on a branch outside
my classroom window.

Change begins with
whispers on a breeze.

XVI. anecdata, n.

While my lunch cooks, the daughter
who runs the cash register tells me
her family’s history — how busy
they used to be, before
Main Street became a highway,
starving side-street restaurants
like theirs.

XVII. foul case, n. and adj.

It’s so hard to not step in
when your kids — so full
of passion, energy — 
stumble over their words,
to not take the reins.
They need to learn this,
do it themselves.
You're just there to support them.

XVIII. haggis-headed, adj.

My heart hurts as she gives me my lunch.
I want to help them, and every other
family-owned business in my district, but —
but.
I stumble over my words.
I can make promises all day;
promises don’t help people.
The laws need to change.

XIX. witches’ broom, adj.

Every day more kids show up
to prepare for a protest on the 14th.
They complain about
their families’s stores struggling,
not being able to get anywhere on their own.
They call Councilmember Meyers a fungus.

XX. whoo-ee, int.

I wake up Sunday morning
while you’re making breakfast,
my phone bursting with notifications.
The top one is a message from my assistant
with a link to an article in the Tribune
in which Councilmember Meyers
calls my plan “unamerican,”
“an attack on our way of life.”
A day before the vote and he pulls this.
I hate
how little I’m surprised.

XXI. enoughness, n.

The kids decided on a walkout
at the end of 4th period
leading to a march to City Hall.
They timed it so they would arrive
just as arguments
on the infrastructure bill
would begin. They created signs,
flooded Instagram and Snapchat,
built a crowd to overwhelm the sidewalk
they’d have to take there.

XXII. dwaal, n.

As the session gets closer,
I sift through the notecards
of my speech, eyeing
the window to the courtyard.
You said your students would arrive
as the session began. What if
they don’t show up? What if
I fumble my words? I miss the gavel
marking the start of the session;
Meyers takes the floor.

XXIII. gyaff, n.

One of my students in sixth period
tells me some parents joined the march
with wagons full of water bottles and
granola bars from Costco.
Only one-third of my students remained
at the end of the day.
I’m out of the parking lot before the buses.

XXIV. genericide, n.

Meyers moves through
the usual talking points
as a crowd forms outside.
They pour in, all these kids,
fill the balcony, signs waving 
about their independence.
His speech drowns in
their cacophony.

XXV. garderobe, n.

I have to park in the library parking lot
a block away from city hall, because
all the street parking is taken.
Some students shout to get my attention
from the middle of the crowd outside.
They clear a path for me to get inside
to the staircase to the spectator balcony.
I look over a mountain range of heads
just in time to see you stand up
to begin your speech.

XXVI. woofle, v.

“What my colleague fails to realize is that our community is growing. This growth is beyond the comprehension of our predecessors, who fervently believed that sprawling outward was their best option — an option supported by the modern real estate community and some members of city council.

“The sprawl is unsustainable, both in a physical and a communal sense. We have neighborhoods extending out of our city limits into unincorporated areas, but the children in those incorporated neighborhoods attend schools within our limits, within our care. Those children — like the children filling the balconies now — need to have access to our city’s assets: our parks, our schools, our stores. They must be able to traverse the land in our care effectively and safely- whether that be by foot, bike, or public transit.

“The dependence on cars has hurt our local businesses. Many small stores, the family businesses that built this city in the first place, are struggling, collapsing due to a declining customer base, primarily due to the siphoning of routes to Main Street and their shops being one block too far off that path.

“This bill, which I authored, allocates city funds to the creation and maintenance of resources to fix these problems: sidewalks on streets within school zones, bike lanes on major roads throughout the city, buses with more accessible and reliable routes.

“Certain members of this council have called this plan ‘unamerican.’ And, they are are correct if we only take an antiquated view of what America was. If we look at what America is, what America could be, this plan is as American as it gets.

“The vitriol with which some members of city council use to denigrate this bill is antithetical to the promises they’ve made to support their constituents and their community.

“We should be fighting for our community. We should be fighting for the independence of empowerment of our youth. We should be fighting for our local businesses. We need this bill to aid in these fights.

“Thank you.”

XXVII. antical, adj.

Thunderous applause
as you step away from the podium.
Your name
chanted by students in the balcony.
Your face
so full of pride, confidence, triumph.
You wave
when you find my face in the crowd.

My heart is so full.
I love you so much.
I am so proud of you.

XXVIII. jump-up, n.

The path of progress
has a steep incline,
many switchbacks,

but eventually, we will
reach the summit; the future —
the line where the sky and ridge meet.

There is no one else
I’d rather be on this journey with
than you.

A Time We Were

I’ve typed half an email to you
a dozen times, desperate
as a maple reaching over a scenic byway.

Do you remember
when we used to communicate
through the wind?
I could hear your voice, your thoughts,
just by how you exhaled through your nose
during one of Mr. Slater’s lectures.

We could be states apart,
but I would still know;
thoughts were leaves
on autumnal breezes
falling on the mossy forest floor.

Heavy currents eroded our bridge,
felled trees snapped our power lines,
space debris brought down our satellites,
and now you’re just ones and zeros —
a silent amalgamation of pixels.