Before

Rummaging through old family photos with the burden of displaying my mother’s life at the wake, (with the purpose, it seems, to prove the dead did not always look as they do in the coffin, polished and waxy, lips unnaturally taut), I am arrested by a sepia-tinted photo of a young girl looking out at me with a faint smile as if she could already see all the irony.  I cannot cry for the difficult woman she would become, but I cry for this young girl in a sturdy wool jacket, a barrette pinning her blond hair to one side, her face, pure light like the girl with the pearl earring or Anne Frank in the attic or Mona Lisa—before the world happened to her. Before her father gave away a beloved, three-legged dog she nursed back to health, or refused to keep the piano left behind in their new house. Before worry. Before she learned her mother’s depression. Long before her spine refused to support her. Before she would ask God what she was being punished for. I cry for this girl who smiles softly at me, claiming some small peace in a big and blistering world.

 

After a death

it occurs to me that I need to take a hard look at myself, a sort of accounting. It occurs to me that I am easily distracted by a drop of water making its way down the pane, that I take everything too seriously or not seriously enough. It occurs to me that I feel guilty because I’m wasting time when every good minute should be spent writing or baking pies or sorting piles of mail. It occurs to me that something is very wrong with that. It occurs to me that I need to be a better person, that my students should be more vocal, that I lack some cool approach. And I really hope my husband knows I love him because I am trying to be a real person in a world where I find myself lacking every day. It occurs to me that I believed I would be a new, truer kind of woman after my mother died, with this new life stretching out across a prairie of waving grasses and endless sky. Instead I am the heroine in a black and white foreign movie where I get up every morning and make the coffee and take the turns through the day and go to bed where the nights are so long and I have to meet my sleepless self and I don’t know where to put her or what to do about her.

 

Raphael Kosek

Raphael Kosek’s poems have appeared in such venues as Poetry East, Catamaran, and Briar Cliff Review. Her latest chapbook, ROUGH GRACE won the 2014 Concrete Wolf Chapbook Prize. Her lyric essays won first prize at Bacopa Review (2017) and Eastern Iowa Review (2016). She won the Bacopa Review’s 2019 poetry contest (Pushcart Prize nominee). Her full-length poetry book, AMERICAN MYTHOLOGY, was recently released by Brick Road Poetry Press and Garrison Keilor has chosen two poems from it for The Writer’s Almanac. She teaches English at Marist College and Dutchess Community College where her students keep her real. She is the 2019-2020 Dutchess County NY Poet Laureate. Find her at www.raphaelkosek.com

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