Poems by Gillian Kessler
Updated: Apr 12, 2020
By Gillian Kessler:
My mama died at the beginning of this year. Saturdays are now the hardest days. Saturdays, a little before one in the afternoon.
She was my lady. My dear friend. My lounge around on the bed and chat. My eat fine cheese and crisp apple slices partner. My let’s go deep and now. My fellow lover of Birkenstocks and soft, flowy pants. She was my champion of radical acceptance. A love force. A love blanket.
She died quickly. One day she was leaving me another silly phone message filled with love and random thoughts and strange questions, and the next she’d been found confused in her little apartment. A showering of strokes.
So I do what makes the most sense: I write. And feel. And process. And write some more.
This will be sacred space to share her story. Ours. We will see what becomes of us now.
At the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas
You read that at the Garden of One Thousand Buddha’s we must walk clockwise, our right ears turned towards statues, our right ears ready to hear the words between the space that is sameness, stillness.
You clutch your blue cane, butterflies dance around the steel periphery and we walk hand in hand, your weight in my hip like I did with my babies, those natural grooves, that flow.
So very slowly we circle and I feel the false move, the slightest tap, could knock you down, a heap of only the finest linen, lips outlined in subtle red, not a smudge, everything just so, the weight of my task immense as we shuffle this circle, the still of this valley, the patterns, intricate and deliberate, molded and holy and you say you can almost feel it. How it feels to feel. Because, perhaps, when you’re near the end it’s better to ground in logic and knowledge, your strong mind dictating the terrain, because you’ve always done it all by yourself:
Come to this country. Marry this man. Raise these children. Education and education, work and work, one heavy step after another, though today, your legs barely support your frame, your back bent and broken, a tiny hand shakes, your face serious and deep, pained clarity.
Sixteen years ago, I never thought you’d still be here. The morphine dripped and I told you all my secrets, spoke to your closed eyes, laughed myself silly, delirious, those hours spent in that stale room, striped curtains and
Her Journey to America
She carried books perhaps
a pressed silk scarf
something woven with the indigo
hues of Ayah’s sari, the scent of
curry and cumin folded into the
She carried a handbag,
leather and posh with
just the essentials:
a cotton hanky,
a new lipstick,
a few hard candies,
in case she becomes
in case she needs
something slightly sweet.
She carried drive and
curiosity and zeal.
Something called brazen.
Something called pride.
Her shoulders square,
she stepped carefully off
the rickety dock,
inhaled the scent of
sea and salt,
smiled boldly at
the strangers on board,
turned her head one last time,
flashed her gorgeous smile
at the hills and
at the dusty roads
and swaying palms,
at mothers and fathers,
brothers and uncles,
their injuries and false
hopes, their needs and
arrogance. She smiled and
sat, palms facing skyward
on her knees,
knowing that the sea
held the answers,
that the sea
would hold her safe.
Notes on a perfect meal, with mom at 84
She will say that it’s probably time for a drink.
You will challenge her to not add any Splenda or
lemonade powder to her liquid and instead
pour chilled vodka in two glasses,
squeeze in some lemon, top with
fresh orange juice, add a splash of tonic.
You will see what cheese she’s stashed
in her orderly plastic bin, something with
a hard and peppery rind, perhaps
or maybe Castello blue, the way it grooves
smoothly through the miniature and perfect
cheese knife that begs to be used on these
remarkable and ordinary occasions. You sit
together in her little living room.
You splayed out on the sofa,
she refined in a soft chair,
little tray between you on the teak table.
She will remark that the drink is simply perfect.
You will smile and then run back
to the kitchen to add a cut apple to the
platter, Pink Lady that’s been chilled in the fridge.
She asks you questions about your children,
your travels and you take the time to answer
each one with detail and intention, so glad to
have someone ask about your best prizes and
bold memories, as so often your legacy is lost
in the bustle of a return, of laundry to do and
papers to grade, lost in carting children to
swim team and the rock gym and the dance studio,
the way that chaos can drown out the simple,
and while I’m lost in this memory moment of
vodka and cheese and bliss, my daughter asks
if she can borrow my eye shadow. She has a modern
dance performance today and wants to add
sparkle and mascara to her costume. Actually,
mom, can I use your blush too? She shouts from
my bathroom and I see myself just last week
in my mom’s drawer, rooting around for
powder, checking out her latest finds, the way
she organizes all the items into perfect little
sections, pencils and brushes, while
mine spills willy nilly from my old bag,
the way I hope that one day she
will bring me a plate of cheese and apples,
know the right proportion of citrus to liquid,
invite me to join her on the sofa
to share all of our languid hours,
our earthly and shared delights.