Shh, shh, shh...
Breezes caper in the dogwoods; white petals twirl onto the sidewalk.
The air smells green, and sweet, and forgiving.  
Shh, shh, shh...
White wicker rocker creaks in the gloaming.
My sister moves her downy head into the blanket and breast.
She smells of talcum powder and Johnson’s tearless shampoo.
I marvel at her wrinkled fist clutching the crochet weave of the afghan. I drowse on the floor at our mother’s feet, green sculpted carpet rough against my face
“Down in the Valley” sung in rocking-chair time—shh, shh, shh...
I lie awake in the bottom bunk, curled against my pillow, feet drawn nearly to my chin.
Spiderwort hangs in a ceramic cowboy-boot planter,
A gift from my grandmother that casts tendril and talon shadows across the path to my door.
I wait for the tired cough to come from the room down the hall—a signal that she sleeps and will not turn me away when I crawl under her covers
Shh, shh, shh...
Her hand already a skeleton in my grip—shh, shh, shh...
The mechanic breath of the ventilator—shh, shh, shh...
Until no breath comes—shh, sh, sss—
I think I see her a dozen times the first month, a dozen more in the next six.
I delete her number from my contacts a year later—no longer in service.
I delete her voicemails two years later, to the day.
I mine for artifacts occasionally—the dusty mementos that evoke the story,
A piece of clothing, a kept baby tooth in a velvet box that held a piece of jewelry.
Perhaps her touch left a signature to attest to the permanence of things—
Of her.
An autographed baseball never forgets the hand that held it.
My daughter names the world, all things must be spoken into existence.
Tree, bubberfly, moon—Sophie, the dog, and Masha, the cat.
When the streetlights flicker into orange and the cicadas sing their songs
I fold her long-legged body into my lap, and I sing,
“Down in the valley, the valley so low.”

Poet’s Note

As a child, my mother rocked me and my younger sister in a white wicker rocker that stood sentinel in every place she lived except the last. It represented the quiet and comfort of childhood. As I grew older and moved away from my childhood home, I would call her from whatever adventure I might be enjoying at the moment. My whole life, she tethered me to reality and to the rest of the family. I called her from Mardi Gras, the Ocoee River, Iraq, Afghanistan, and when I discovered I was going to be a father. On March 9, 2019, she took her last breath with her hand in mine.

Following her death, I found myself looking to fill the void her absence created. I saved voicemails so I could hear her voice whenever I wanted. Even though I knew she was not there to answer, I called her number to tell her where I was and what I was doing, longing to hear the mixture of motherly dismay tinged with pride. I searched for her in all the places she no longer inhabited. In the end, I found her: in the phrases I said and stories I told of hers. I found her in trinkets and in artifacts. Most of all, I found her in songs—songs that I still sing to my daughter that my mother once sang to me, rocking me in that old white wicker rocking chair.