HOW TO CELEBRATE YOUR DAUGHTER’S 33RD BIRTHDAY WHEN THERE’S NO GOING BACK
Go south and then west to a distant unknown
address. Drive past junk yards, steel shops, stacked
car parts, and a billboard for weed pizza. Breathe.
Remember the last time you saw her, Christmas,
and before that, the car ride between hospital stays.
Bring the cake you baked, the kind she likes: cocoa frosted
yellow square plus cupcakes left at home for her daughter.
Pack the gift bag, pink tissue-papered things she asked for:
track phone, cleansers in a plastic tub, socks. Card you made
from an old photo, your arms circling her little-
girl body, both of you smiling, her grin with perfect
rows of baby teeth, yours in plum lipstick. Park, watch
her walk to your car, barefoot, no pants, long red tee-shirt,
dark hair coiling to her waist. Wave. Say hi, make eye
contact. Hand her envelopes, bags, the tin pan
of golden cake. Hear her say thank you. Follow her
through the front door into a house with no furniture.
Learn the boyfriend you don’t know is upstairs. Ask
if she’s taking care of herself. Listen to the wind howl.
See her eyes dance backward. Worry. Swirling
dust outside the window. Look how she opens
the card, finds a trace of who you two were then
is still here in this empty unfamiliar room. Put your arms
around her, feel her wobble. Say, enjoy your cake! Wonder
if there’s any chance they even have a knife.
—from Poets Respond
March 7, 2021