Elegy for My Mom

a poem written for the anniversary of my mom’s death, taken from a log entry written on her birthday, march 5, 2017

On the occasion of my mom’s 75th birthday,
I wanted to take her on my run.
I wanted her beside me
as I traveled on the bluff,
above the Mississippi River.
To talk about the trees we encountered or
the wildflowers she knew the names of but I didn’t or
the poetry class I was taking or
the latest book about early American history she was reading or
the difficulties in raising a wonderfully willful and exuberant daughter or
when the Real Housewives would stop being a thing or
where to plant zinnias in my backyard or
why you can’t find a decent pair of jeans that aren’t skinny or
what she was weaving on her loom or
how it was to be 75 when you always feel 17.
I wanted to do this but I couldn’t.
She’s been dead for 8 years and
when I’m running, I can’t
spare the energy needed
to imagine her beside me.
The most I can do is imagine
that she’s the shadow that leads me
on my early morning runs
or the runner I encounter on the path.


A few months ago
running south on the river road
I thought I saw her
coming towards me,
at least the her I like to remember:
mid 50s, short reddish hair—
before she started dyeing it blonde to hide the gray—
teal running shorts,
muscular legs,
jogging so slow that she was almost walking.
I knew it wasn’t her but
for less than a minute
I allowed myself to believe
my mom was still alive—
that she was never diagnosed
with a death sentence
that she never had to stop running
or walking or breathing.
Then I remembered
if those things hadn’t ended—
mainly the breathing—
I might not have started
running or writing to reshape my grief.
Who would I be without my grief?
Someone else, someone
whose Mom was still alive
but maybe not someone
who loved to run or someone
who would write a poem
for their dead mom
on the occasion of her 75th birthday.