TO THE DAUGHTER I NEVER HAD
I saw you today at the playground.
You were wearing a little dress
that reminded me of all the dresses
I never bought for you,
all the sundresses and twirly skirts,
all the Hanna Anderssons.
You were on the swing, leaning back,
reaching up with your candy-striped legs,
as if to reinsert yourself
into an imaginary heaven,
into the realm of possibility.
You didn’t see me watching you
from a future in which you don’t exist,
but sometimes you smile at me
from the face of another man’s daughter—
a smile that contains all the mornings
we never baked bread together,
all the cartwheels you never turned,
all the stories you never told me
about all the things that never happened.
You are six, or nine, or fifteen, and always
as beautiful as I imagined, growing up
smart and graceful and strong, and I am glad,
and it breaks my heart
that you have become all this without me.
I have spent what would have been
your entire life breaking up
fights between the boys,
scrubbing the floor around the toilet,
trying to get them to change their underwear,
and knowing that I could not love anyone more—
not even you.
Perhaps someday you will understand
how it’s possible to regret
the life that never was, and still love nothing
more than the life that is.
—from Rattle #28, Winter 2007