My mother died, exhaling a long, rattling breath,
then my sister and I wept, bowing our heads.
It’s over, Tamara said, but then Mom gasped
and sat up straight in bed and gazed hard
and long at us, memorizing our faces,
so in her afterlife she could re-embrace us.
My sister said, It’s okay, you can let go,
clasping those cold hands within her palms.
Then, with a pained look, our beloved mother
sank back into her pillows, silenced her lungs
by issuing a long, terrible sigh so final it
shook the silent room with echoes—dying
a second, final time. Wrenchingly, it stays
with me now, how hungrily she devoured
our daughterly faces, imprinting them with
love into whatever wonder of consciousness
accompanies the soul on its tireless journey.
Breathless, one day we’ll chaperone her eternity.
-June 17, 2020
Landscape in December
During every full moon our forest shudders,
leaf by leaf, as if some platinum weight enters
the pores of living trees on a cellular level,
dousing them with a heavy, metallic sheen.
Even the marbled boulders wear an afterglow
from that lunar drenching and emanate a cool,
glistening aureole, as from halogen haloes.
How I love to walk outside on such nights,
in any season, when the stars step backwards
into silvered shadows, the austere mountains
kindling inner fires as if they’re volcanic.
Last winter I took a midnight stroll alone,
meandering along a snow-littered trail aglow
with neon from the waning moon, and found
a dying oriole, its ochre breast blood-tinged.
Perhaps I’d scared off a coyote, although
the air’s quiet veered against this thought.
Reaching for it, I knew I couldn’t save it.
Still, I touched its wing gently twice before
turning away, leaving it to its frosty rest.
Useless, I thought to hold what I can’t revive.
I see myself now in that bird’s glazed eyes—
my puzzled face dark with mortal yearnings,
and overhead the moon disguised as a zero,
or else as eternity’s welcoming mouth.
My father wanted me to be masterful as Heifetz,
playing divertimenti to the crowds;
I hoped to be a country fiddler wooing our cows
back in from pasture—
My father wanted me to be seen, not heard,
my temper’s tempest hurtling towards him;
I wanted to become a forest hermit who meditates
only on being and nothingness;
My father wished I’d been a son: brave, strong,
and a testament to his testosterone;
I was born his daughter, calling myself by name
simply another Simon.
If he could see me from beyond his grave,
would my father unfurl my name with pride?
Would he recognize himself in my ageing face,
forgive his own father his wounding words?
I see my girlhood self, ablaze with indignant rage,
and also, my present self, scathed by regret
and worn smooth by the grinding years—a fingerprint
whose whorls fade from my ablutions.
Now I yearn for my father’s voice to ring out
in any timbre, for him to chide me loudly
for my newest misdemeanor, including that of being
a felonious girl, just to hear his noise.
Maurya Simon’s tenth volume, The Wilderness: New & Selected Poems, received the 2019 Gold Medal in Poetry from the Independent Booksellers Association. She’s been awarded an NEA Fellowship and residencies at the American Academy in Rome and the MacDowell Colony. Her poetry’s been translated into Hebrew, French, Spanish, Greek, and Farsi. Simon’s a Professor of the Graduate Division and a Professor Emerita at the University of California, Riverside. She divides her time between the Angeles National Forest and San Clemente, California.