I wrote this poem some twenty or so years ago when my daughter was a feisty young woman newly graduated from university and heading off to try her wings on a trip to Europe – alone! – laden with an enormous backpack (nearly as tall as she was) looming far above her slender shoulders.
Before leaving on her adventure, she had come back home for a brief summer visit to be with her parents, prepare for her trip – and eventually to say good-bye and assure us that she would be fine, and not to worry.
Sometime after she left, I went into her room to tidy up. As I looked around me, the confusion of feelings I had set aside as I watched her move through this huge passage, out into her own life’s journey, overwhelmed me. I sat down and wrote this poem to try to sort through the pain:
You’ve left behind the cast-off makings
of your latest nest: a few old shoes,
a bag of letters collected over the summer,
deodorant and hairspray nearly empty,
but not quite –
too much left to throw away,
but not enough to take. Before you left,
you apologized for not making the bed.
And now you’re gone. I look
at these tousled sheets and know, finally,
this house is no longer home to you.
You light, you perch for a few
brief moments, and then you fly away
and we, who love you more than breath,
are left with bright shards of memories,
tiny dancing motes seen against
a sunny window, impossible to hold.
So you’re off, small migrant bird flying
across the sea alone – alone! –
rucksack on your back,
tender spirit singing of freedom
and joy, and fear clutches my heart
in icy fingers and squeezes, hard.
Woman grown, I know,
but still, o still so delicate,
so fragile when I wish you now
six feet tall and built like a linebacker
with a black belt, and able to tear pig iron apart
with your teeth, and face like an old boot,
just for these next few weeks,
and so I bargain with the Fates….
Dear Sir or Madam,
you may not remember me;
it’s true we haven’t spoken
just lately – well, for quite some time,
actually – but if you don’t mind
just seeing to it that this one
feisty little bird on her maiden flight
travels that unknown shore
in gentle tailwinds and soft light,
why, you can hit me with a bus
if that will make it even, or perhaps
inflict me with a debilitating disease.
Whatever it takes.
Whatever it takes to keep her safe.