Two Poems by Sandra Kohler

Forgiveness

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.

Four Poems by Sandra Kohler

Having lost it…

When I tell my therapist about having lost it completely three days ago
when my husband gets angry at me because I’ve left a cabinet door open
and he bangs his head on it, says it’s something I’ve done before, I
tell her I don’t understand what set me off so completely, so that
I scream I can’t stand it, threaten to leave, to kill myself, outrageous
unforgivable behavior, and why, all because of his understandable
irritation at the end of a long siege of frustrations, stress, anxiety
in these awful pandemic days.

What was this about, I ask, and she asks me. “My mother,” I say. That
answer that we all come up with in the end, unless it’s “my father.” But
for me, it was her, not him. And somehow, I don’t know how, I have
reached, in these days, a kind of grim unrecognized decision: I reject
her definition of me, my life. I don’t want ever again to feel guilty or
unworthy or incompetent, I am done, finally, with apologizing for my
existence.

*

Recognition

I’m thinking this morning, as I often
do, of my wish that my husband and I
had known each other decades earlier,
ages before we met, middle-aged, with
years of living behind each of us. But
today for the first time I realize I’ve been
wrong, we do have that knowledge.

Each of us still carries the young self
we were inside, bringing a childhood,
a parentage, family, first marriage, years
of living adult lives. Here and now, in
the present, we see, hear, feel aspects of
that life, that person in the other. Here
and now, in this relationship, we are
each all the selves we’ve ever been.

*

Vanishing

Climbing a steep hill of iced-over
snow in front of a public building,
library of some kind, I know I have
to extract one book from the depths
of the mound, it’s what I’m here for.
The rest has vanished. We vanish
and don’t. We are alive in the dreams
of others, or dead, dreams which may
be closer to nightmare than dream,
or not. We are strange familiar ghosts
becoming apparitions, visitations.

I lose a hearing aid, the key to my
house, an hour, a morning, a slip of
paper with the name of the nostrum
that could save me, a child’s first all-
accepting love, a friendship that was
never whole but whose fractures still
beckoned. I lose my sense of humor,
my sense of proportion, my way,
my whereabouts, my why.

Do I have anything left to say? Of
course. Do I know how to say it? Of
course not. It’s the not which gives me
the knot to unpick, whose threads can
be woven into patches, forming a
patchwork which can be sewn into
a fabric which will be a statement
of something I don’t know I know.

*

What Follows

After ten years of living here, I still
don’t know the weather, its patterns,
where it comes from. Or the domestic
weather: my daughter-in-law’s moods.

Talking to her about the garden, I get
what I’ve asked for and then don’t know
what to do with it. I can accept or reject
it. Whatever. What would whatever be?

There are grave limits not on what I
can want but on how much I can have.
The sky says anything can come along
and will, but not what or where. Our

roses are blossoming today as if there
is no tomorrow. If they’re right I should
be attending not to weather but whether:
what can I create from today’s offerings?

*

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.

Two Poems by Sandra Kohler

Fall

In a nightmare my husband has converted
to a sect of fundamentalist Christianity and
is insisting I must do so also, otherwise I am
not “in the eyes of God.” It’s fall. The leaves
are falling. In the same dream, my husband’s
walking the dog and I am afraid he will fall.
Volatile fall. I am watching him too closely
and not closely enough. He should be back.
Have I missed the sound of his mother’s
clock striking? What do I miss? Safety.
Something I never had. I can’t imagine
wanting to be in the eyes of God. I want
to be in my husband’s eyes, in his good
graces, in his bed. He’s not at home. He
fell ill, is in the hospital, the ICU, I dream
of watching over him as I can’t these nights.
Waking, seeing my nightmare is dream,
my spirits rise. But he’s absent. It’s
autumn. My spirits fall with the leaves.

*

Seven Years

“It tires her to see the curve of heaven”
Aeneid, Book IV

Why does this line make me think about
my sister? On the seventh anniversary of
her death, I wake thinking of her once more,
of my connections with, my alienation from
her, my anger, my grief, my inability to let
either of them go, let her go, let myself be.

She was seven years older than I, when she
died she was the age I am today, if I died
today, I would be one with her. Just days
ago I found the grey sweater she knitted,
the only garment she ever made that fit me,
that I enjoyed wearing, and find myself

wanting to throw it away, be rid of it. How
to be rid of her? I can’t. If I forgave her,
would I be free? Perhaps I could. Forgive
her for being who she was, for failing me
both when I was a child after mother’s
death, and later, in our adult lives. Yet

I think I’m the one who needs to be
forgiven, for not visiting her in her last
years, the lost years at the end of her life.
Must I forgive her to forgive myself? Is
thinking of forgiving her doing so?
Repeating, retracting, reenacting this
past, present, I am as weary as Dido.

*

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, 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.