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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

careful creases.

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,

spine straight,

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

street signs,

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.


Gillian Kessleris a poet, teacher, and a regular writer for Flapper Press. Her first published book of poems, Lemons and Cement, is available for purchase.

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