Forgiveness, I am still working on it by Gail Thomas

Forgiveness, I am still working on it

after five decades. You’d think
it would be easier, now that some
of the players have died
and those who don’t
care live far away.
This labor is not love,
except the selfish sort which
is to say it may release
the small dirge without
words locked in
my chest.

I’m close
to turning the page
on lies and betrayal,
even the absent father
of my children.

But not
the country neighbor
who reached inside
his kitchen door to grab
a rifle and kill
my black dog
who was barking at
a rabbit under his porch.

Home from the hospital
with my first baby
I heard the blast mixed
with her cries
and ran across the yard
sprung with violets.
He stood his ground.

I crawled back to bed
where grief and anger
seeped into my milk.
She cried for days.
In court he remained silent.
I repeated his admission.
The judge let him walk away.

For twenty years I kept
my vow to never
home another dog
until the Wyoming sky
said, you have never
seen a sky vast enough
to crack open
a fearful heart.

Since then I have chosen
and buried companions,
and now my trusting girl,
belly exposed, shows
how to recognize
joy and
admit its shadow
which will surely come.
I am still working on it.


Gail Thomas’ new books of poetry are Trail of Roots, winner of the A.V. Christie award from Seven Kitchens Press and Leaving Paradise from Human Error Publishing. She has four other books, and her poems are widely published in journals and anthologies. Awards include the Charlotte Mew Prize from Headmistress Press for Odd Mercy, Narrative Poetry Prize from Naugatuck River Review, and the Massachusetts Center for the Book’s “Must Read” for Waving Back. She teaches poetry for Pioneer Valley Writers’ Workshops, and volunteers helping resettle refugees and visiting libraries and schools with her “Reading Buddy” dog, Sunny.

Two Poems by Sandra Kohler


This morning I am mourning my mother
again, anew, mourning her as I did not,
could not, didn’t know how when she died,
when her death was given to me as fact
to accept and ignore, not as feeling, not
as anything to mourn. In the car coming
from the cemetery I wept, and thought as
I did what all the passersby thought of
the sobbing child, how they imagined
the cause of her crying. I stood outside
that child, that weeping, those tears, I
watched it as I might a scene in a play
whose meaning I needed to discern and
could not. I could not. I could not learn
from my own tears, could not get inside
my own mind, could not feel that what
was happening to me was real. No one
told me that it was, no one named my
motherlessness, no one answered my
unspoken questioning of what was
happening, of how my life was being
changed. No one saw me. Who needs
forgiveness: that child who did not
mourn, those adults who did not show
her she needed to do so? All of us.
Along with the mother who made it
all happen by leaving, by dying.


This is Not a Bandage

When our granddaughter sees the helmet of bandages
her grandfather sports after his fall, hospitalization,
return home, fainting spell, rehospitalization, release,
beginning recovery, she asks to sign it, and inscribes

the white swaths in black ink: “This is a bonnet not
a bandage.” Our six-year old Magritte, confident
labeller of the real. I was afraid he would die on her
birthday, darken joys to come. She tells me she dreamt

she found herself outdoors, in a field of blossoming
clover, folding huge bolts of cloth with a group
of Amish women, who were kind to her but spoke
a language she could not understand. I walk through

my house these days choosing what to give away. I
clear it out, pare it down: a bandage, a helmet, a pipe.


Sandra Kohler’s third collection of poems, Improbable Music, (Word Press) appeared in May, 2011. Earlier collections are The Country of Women (Calyx, 1995) and The Ceremonies of Longing, (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003). Her poems have appeared in journals, including The New Republic, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Prairie Schooner, and many others over the past 45 years. In 2018, a poem of hers was chosen to be part of Jenny Holzer’s permanent installation at the new Comcast Technology Center in Philadelphia.