High School Lunch
My father made me a sandwich for lunch every day,
carefully put the turkey, cheddar, lettuce and mayo
on the sourdough, then zipped it up in a Ziploc.
And every day during orchestra, I slipped the sandwich
into the whooshing plastic of a black trashcan, or palmed
it off to a friend. Those feinted days, when I almost fainted
in the hallways, eating less than three hundred calories.
Once, my father made a spaghetti dinner—the last
he’d cook for us as a family—and I refused to eat
anything but Special K. His dish crashed into the sink
and my mother ran after him (then, she still could).
I held the shards in my hands; the pasta sauce
coated them like coagulated blood. That was
the first time in my life that I felt regret,
true regret, the kind that’s parasitic
and coils up in you like a tape worm,
eating through your intestines,
inside out. The kind that swims
around in your stomach when you wake
covered in the lilacs and butterflies
of your childhood bed, to come downstairs
and find your mother, alone, crying.
The kind that feels like the frozen lace
of love covering your heart
when your aunts are waiting for you at the airport
in Seattle, instead of your mother’s friend,
and they sit you down in those grey vinyl chairs
by baggage claim. You don’t want to look
at them. You want to watch the carousel
until it’s one with painted horses that never
stops spinning. You hop on, grab
a magenta mane, and hold as tight
as your tiny hands will let you.
Visiting my mother’s memory on a stormy Friday night
I stare at the reflection
in the candle, aimlessly,
until it hits me—it looks
like my mother’s eye,
dark as the sea in a storm,
grey and sad but inquisitive.
Then I realize, it’s actually
the matting of our portrait
that I took in college,
in the reflection, of us
in matching outfits,
mounted on my wall.
The cancer had gotten worse
then; she’d started fearing
death for the first time.
When I asked her
that winter where
she wanted her ashes
spread, she said
she didn’t know,
maybe the Grand Canyon,
where she and my dad
were wed, maybe
she spent much
of her childhood,
just outside Los Alamos,
then looked me
in the eyes
and just cried.
I held her until
she fell asleep;
stuck to the pillow
The next morning,
when I kissed her goodbye
and flew away,
it would be
the last time
I’d see her smile.
Kelsey Ann Kerr has a great interest in loss: holes both metaphorical and physical of the heart, holes in life left by the loss of parents, cauterized by love. She teaches writing composition at the University of Maryland and American University, and holds an M.F.A. in Poetry from the University of Maryland. Her work can be found, or is forthcoming, in “Stirring,” “New Delta Review” and “The Sewanee Review,” among others.