me-and-cameron-sf

My daughter and I at the SF museum after she received a Masters in Statistics.

After writing a sonnet for my father’s 85th birthday, I attempted a villanelle for my mother’s birthday. She married my father two days before her 18th birthday. On their honeymoon, she expected a birthday party, cake, candles–the works. My father hadn’t expected this, thinking getting married was enough for that long ago week. But he never forgot my mother’s birthday again.

I’ve read that villanelles often serve as eulogies. Like sonnets, they use iambic pentameter. But what really emboldened me was that the first two lines were ones my daughter and I really exchanged. She remembers us saying the exact words. It’s not just me.

The poem glances upon the difference between a long life and a very short one. Decades ago, my youngest sister was killed by a drunk driver. She was eight and holding her best friend’s hand in front of our house. They stepped off the curb and my sister disappeared. Her friend looked around in disbelief. My sister had landed 80 feet from the spot where she’d just been alive and happy. No one in my family is or was the same after this. As a fiction writer, I wonder about the widely praised and much loved stories in which a dead sister intervenes from heaven. Or the famous short story by a writer bedeviled by his editors in which a child’s death feels less crushing after the baker serves the parents fresh baked, whole wheat muffins.

Too many people refuse to acknowledge their own tragedies, let alone embrace another’s.We all have limits and short comings. But society should champion those brave and sensitive enough to acknowledge another’s pain. You’ve no idea what a difference it can make–when someone’s hurt, instead of telling her to cheer up, tell her you recognize what she’s going through. She’s not alone.

When I said life if long, my daughter said
That she had heard it's short, so which is it? 
In truth,I said, our Life has hard, fast limits.

The puzzle will prevail in heads 
And hearts until our world is finished. 
When I said Life is long, my daughter said,

Perhaps lifespan relieves annoying dread,
Unlike the instant end--torture isn't it? 
In truth, I said, our Life has hard, fast limits.

But if you suffer shocking loss within it, 
Oh yes, it tears, it rips, and never quits.
When I said Life is Long, my daughter said,

Who measure Life in any given minute?
No one. For time enforces awful exits.
In truth, I said, our Life has hard, fast limits.

Enjoy the moment! Love exists ahead: 
Surprise! A birthday party, candles lit! 
Hurray for you--and Dad--beyond all limit.


June 22, 2016 by Kathleen Maher
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