I. 23 January 2010

I spent the year learning to live without you.

I braced myself for ice breakers asking how many siblings I had,

for moments when someone would call me by your name,

for the times when facebook told me I hadn’t communicated with you in awhile,

for when I heard “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” or saw gummy peach rings,

for Burberry scarves, Dracula, and passing references to typography,

and I would weigh that moment against the reserve of tears and the reserve of my heart.

Today: Rivulets of tears streak and stream “dramatic black” mascara and

“smoky brown” eyeliner betraying…

Last year, you and Mom took me to the mall for this makeup, for a professional look.

You were the one who told me not to wear yellow,

who made me try on strange pants and shirts that I bought—

You were the artist whose eye I borrowed when arranging, when making cards.

Twenty-one years and three hundred-fifty days, you were here.

Three hundred and sixty-five days later, I have come to realize

my tears are not grief—no, they are separation anxiety,

a different sort of salt that forms as unnamed sighs are uttered to Heaven.

Until we meet again–

II. April 4, Resurrection Sunday

My mother called early on a January morning last year:

Where are you right now?

I was on the couch, about to leave for work.

You didn’t watch the news, did you?

There was a car accident victim from our town—I saw the ticker on the screen.

It’s your sister; she didn’t come home—she won’t be.

I threw my cup of yogurt in the trash and spilled my tea in the sink.

We know where she is.

I raised my head to the ceiling, invoking giving and taking and blessing.


My mother called last week:


Where are you right now?

I was planning lessons, reading emails, folding laundry.

You didn’t hear the news, did you?

My grandmother came up from Florida; diagnosis: multiple myeloma.

She won’t be coming home.

She is living with my Aunt Lisa, here in Massachusetts, indefinitely.

We know where she is.

I raise hope: she has a good doctor, and we saw her Easter weekend.

Still: I want to lose my phone.

III. June 29

When Mummu, my grandmother, had her own house in Massachusetts,

she always had flowers:

roses, dahlias, daffodils, tiger lilies, and poppies, lining the front yard,

along the edges of the back yard, and in a flower bed around a boulder,

the site for family photos, cousins perched on the granite, between blooms.


Before Mummu left to live in Florida permanently, she gave Myja, my sister,

a paper bag of bulbs that yielded grapefruit-sized blossoms and cast a heady fragrance.

Myja took a picture of herself grinning next to the circular cloud of petals.


When Mummu lived in Florida, she always had flowers.

After a hurricane blew through, I called to check on her.

She said she was fine—the electricity would be out for three days.

She and her older Finnish friends were cooking over sterno.

All was fine, except for her ruined rosebushes.


Now Mummu is back in Massachusetts, resting on the couch at Lisa’s,

accompanied by a black cat and a vase of supermarket flowers that I brought,

and the other bursts of color and petals, offerings from her other callers.


IV. October 24


I wish I was past the inevitable;

I am forced to carry clumsy, boxy uncertainty, jumping when the phone rings.

I whisper a greeting and my heart pounds at the tentative “So…”

on the other end of the line.


There is that line, between me and my phone, and other lines as well:

one from my phone to everyone,

one from me to her, and

one from me to Death.


Death plucks at the string between me and her now and then, a bassist tuning

the low resounding note, ready—

not proud, but bound to remind me that he slips in when he pleases,

leaving indelible memories of botched final lines and greetings:

“I’ll talk to you on Friday; I have to get some work done.”

“Happy Valentine’s Day”

“It was good to see you.”

or, asking once it’s over, “Did he get to see my card before—“

swallowing back the notion that the shade, the spirit was ready to split from the body.


And so I sit, waiting for the inevitable.

I refused to be cheated by a poorly made final greeting,

but I will be robbed of peace with every call and conversation

that begins with “So…we’re still waiting.”


V. November 8


The waiting game is over


VI. November 14


I hum the refrain of a Five Iron Frenzy song: “We are blessed./ We endure.”

Vaguely familiar older faces blink back tears and offer: “Sorry for your loss.”

I shrug. “It was all for the best.”


I sit on the front pew, a wooden creaky structure,

listening to cousin Eric’s wife play hymns on the organ.

“It is well, it is well with my soul.”

The pink casket is front and center.

I resolve to remain a stone, like the monument we will be going to on Forest Hill,

the smooth façade already carved with her name and “Beloved Wife.”

I attribute the retrieval of tissue from my cardigan to congestion—not Emily’s eulogy.

As we intone “I come to the garden alone,”

I stifle laughter at the quivering vibrato of the soprano voice behind me

reaching for Heaven itself with her absurd vocal cords.

There is no fear in Death.


The burial is a strange formality—aunts and cousins demur sitting in the

graveside seats by the green Astroturf and brass rails lining the hole.

A few words, the distribution of pink roses, and we depart for

a deli platter, an arrangement of fruit, church basement coffee, punch,

chicken salad on rolls, and cake.

I hum: We are blessed. We endure.


Mia L. Parviainen


Mia Parviainen teaches high school English and creative writing.

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