My Mother’s Coat on a Stranger (Phone Call with My Sister) by James Harms

My Mother’s Coat on a Stranger (Phone Call with My Sister)

No way, really?
Was it the blue one? The puffy one
she wore those last few years
that matched her eyes
sort of too much, as if
everything about her, her entire
presence was staring at you?
You think the woman bought it
at Goodwill? Do you remember
calling me from the drive-thru drop-off
sobbing about the teenage girl
who’d taken the bags of clothes
from the trunk, how you stood there
crying as she quietly lifted each
one and walked them through
the automatic sliding glass doors?
You told me, she had a nose ring
and lilac hair, remember?
Was she taller or shorter
than Mom, the lady wearing her coat?
Do you think Goodwill waits
a while before selling the clothes
of the dead; I mean it’s been almost
a year? Talk about a grace period.
Can you imagine seeing
her coat on some person crossing
the street in front of your car
a day or two after you donated it,
a week or two after she died?
Would you honk
or hit the gas? Or would you just
sit there long after the light
turned green and cry? Yeah,
me, too. A lot of green lights.

*

James Harms is the author of ten books including, most recently, ROWING WITH WINGS (Carnegie Mellon University Press 2017).

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.

Two Poems by Courtney LeBlanc

POEM FOR NEW YEAR’S DAY

I’m lucky to have good neighbors, the kind
who pull your garbage bins in when you’re out
of town or gather your mail. This summer
I exchanged cucumbers from my garden
for mint from hers. And to have the kind
of neighbors who deliver a bouquet
of bright yellow buttercups when my dad
died, with a note filled with such kindness
I started crying all over again. And isn’t
that what the world needs right now, a little
more kindness? Because last night the ball
dropped and everyone held their breath
and made a wish, the world collectively hoping
that this year will be better than the last.
I started the first day of this new year with
a long walk with my dog, her anxiety
non-existent on these empty country roads.
And the few cars that passed contained
people who raised their palms in hello,
greeting me as if we were old friends, as if
they would happily accept cucumbers
from my garden, grab the package
at my front door, and deliver compassion
in the face of grief. They waved and I waved
back, this small act of kindness between
strangers, this small bit of hope carrying
us into the new year.

*

FOR MY SISTER, WHO TURNED 40 ELEVEN DAYS AFTER OUR FATHER DIED

We planned on Ireland, a week of lush
green and rolling hills, castles and seductive,
indecipherable accents. I would drive
and you would navigate. We’d hike and drink
Guinness, laugh and sleep late. Instead
we took turns holding our father’s hand,
the hum of the hospital and piped-in
Muzak, the soundtrack. After a week, we
brought him home, moved him close
to the picture window in the living room,
let the sun shine onto his skin as he gulped
for air and I pushed morphine into his cheek.
When he died we circled around his bed,
touched his cooling skin, wiped our tears
on the white sheets. Our father never left
the country, never had a passport, never
graduated high school. He left
the adventuring to us, his two youngest
daughters, the ones who flew farthest
from the nest. Let’s pull out calendars
and make plans. We’ll go next year,
or in five. We’ll explore the whole damn
world, we’ll see everything he never did.

*

Courtney LeBlanc is the author of Beautiful & Full of Monsters (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press), chapbooks All in the Family (Bottlecap Press) and The Violence Within (Flutter Press). She is also the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Riot in Your Throat, an independent poetry press. She loves nail polish, tattoos, and a soy latte each morning. Read her publications on her blog: www.wordperv.com. Follow her on twitter: @wordperv, and IG: @wordperv79.