When did you lose your filter? a colleague asked that year before my retirement when I couldn’t handle another senseless staff meeting.
When did you lose your virginity? a student asked, as though it were her business but I told the truth so she’d know it doesn’t have to happen in high school.
When did you lose your father? a new friend asks and suddenly I feel remiss, as though I should have kept better track of him.
The doctor wanted to know how: How did I lose the IUD? Did it fall out on the street? he actually asked, until it turned up on the X-ray, half sunk in the wall of my womb.
I still wonder how I lost that diamond earring, the one generous gift a lover gave me on a whim; its mate reclines now on a black velvet bier in the gift box it came in.
And how did I lose that friend from college, the one I reconnected with in two different cities before he vanished into some far place where emails are read but not returned?
Of all of these, it’s the coffin-shaped fake ruby from the ring my mother wore until she gave it to me when I turned 12 that I wonder most about;
the empty setting, silver filigree, rolls around every time I open the drawer where I keep orphaned earrings and gifts I haven’t the heart to return.
I remember it on her strong, brown finger, and how it skewed to the right on my own, how my sister in the throes of dementia used to stare at it, asking Mother?
You either have it or you don’t. Sometimes it’s given, and you wear it like an amulet. Sometimes imposed, and you bear it like a yoke.
Sometimes it’s just a name you repeat, repeat, repeat, working to make it part of you; you take it in the way a tree accepts and grows around a nail.
For some, it’s embodied in a wafer, a set of beads, a sheaf of onion-skin pages in a handed-down book, a scroll affixed to a door frame.
For some, an elusive spirit that vanishes as they draw near; they spend their lives in the search. I’ve lived this long without religion, yet
I breathe faith every morning when the sun rises; it carries me through the days, a current bearing onward toward night where I drift in my heart’s canoe along black water.
Tamara Madison is the author of the chapbook “The Belly Remembers”, and two full-length volumes of poetry, “Wild Domestic” and “Moraine”, all published by Pearl Editions. Her work has appeared in Chiron Review, the Worcester Review, A Year of Being Here, Nerve Cowboy, the Writer’s Almanac and many other publications. A swimmer, dog lover and native of the southern California desert, she has recently retired from teaching English and French in a Los Angeles high school. Read more about her at tamaramadisonpoetry.com.