Laura Ann Reed taught modern dance and ballet at the University of California, Berkeley prior to working in the capacity of leadership development trainer at the San Francisco headquarters of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Her work has been widely anthologized and published in literary journals. Her chapbook, Shadows Thrown, was published in December, 2022 by Sungold Editions. A San Francisco Bay Area native, Laura resides with her husband in western Washington.
Young, I learned that my father’s father who
in his mid-fifties and aware he’d soon succumb
to stomach cancer, told his only son to
leave the room until he could compose himself.
Compose. How did my father construe
that command—to reconfigure himself into a man
who showed no emotion? A symphony without violins.
I consider the shape of my father’s sadness, that circle
of eternal return, that stasis whose undercurrent of grief
never seemed to change. I mean, what if he’d been
summoned to his father’s bedside for a last embrace?
Might not his sadness have become a pair of parallel
lines, or perhaps a spiral—some form suggesting
movement or metamorphosis? Even if his father wanted
nothing more keenly than to lean into silence, escape
his pain, why the unkindness?
I turn my mind to the day my father lay bathed
in the waning light of his own dying. To the hour
before the doctor removed his breathing tubes
when I sat by the bed, weeping, and my mother—
never one to accept defeat—said, Mel, if you stay,
I promise I won’t ever say another word
about how you forget to close the cabinet doors.
Then, that effort to wrench himself back from
the threshold of darkness, a darkness that beckoned
to him like an adoring parent. How slowly he
rolled his head on the sweat-drenched pillow
to face the direction of her voice.
The kindness in his smile was blinding.
Again, we seclude ourselves
behind doors, windows.
Insulate against a rain
of ash, a brownish haze. Soot
and smoke. Another swath
of trees ablaze—this time
less than 60 miles away.
As a rule, I believe
in trying to see
the other side. Although
I draw the line at climate
change deniers. After all
we’re talking living things.
We’re talking trees. Alive.
Burning. Their quiet screams.
Once I wanted
to stay in the world
I believed it to be.
Once no part of me
was enticed by
the idea of dying.
This was before I knew enough
to silently apologize to every
river, bird, blade of grass.
Next year I’ll turn seventy-five.
I suppose I should get over
my longing for that old feeling
of lightness. I remember a day
in the park. Spring, 1958.
Fat, white clouds. A grassy
field. A large, blue kite.
My dad bending down, saying,
Here, now you take the string.