Old Sorrowby Sandra Kohler
Today it's my mother's, dying, knowing
she is terrified of death and at once pulled
by the desperate longing to be done, have
it over with. Sometimes now, at a concert,
from the first row of the second balcony,
I look down at the tiny figures sitting in
the orchestra, feel how easy it would be
to stand up, lean forward, jump. Terror,
desire: mine are a mirror of hers.
Last night dreaming I find heavy boxes
of books that were my father's: Dickens'
novels, Shakespeare's plays, volumes and
volumes. They are gift, burden. Which
he was, I begin to see, to my mother, to
each of his children. Jester, lover of music,
language, artist manque, but no provider,
a man who told his ten year old daughter
that he feared not being dead but how it
would feel to be struck, killed by a falling
tree in a thunderstorm as he was walking
home from work. Every day after that, I
imagined his dying that death. How much
more his child I believed myself than I
did my mother's: my fantasy, fallacy.
All of their children are dead now except
me. The oldest brother who hated her and
loved him; the next brother who did the
opposite, yet blamed his older brother for
father's death: the symmetry of their mutual
distrust, fear, envy. The sister who thought
she was mother's favorite and hated me for
intruding, unwelcome latecomer, accident.
Each of us struggling with love or hate,
each struggling to connect or to banish
all connection to this family. Each bound
inextricably to all the others, each bound
most in the self those others have shaped.
* * * * *
Sandra Kohler’s third collection of poems, Improbable Music (Word Press), appeared in May, 2011. Earlier collections are The Country of Women (Calyx, 1995) and The Ceremonies of Longing (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003). Her poems have appeared in journals, including The New Republic, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Prairie Schooner, and many others over the past 45 years. In 2018, a poem of hers was chosen to be part of Jenny Holzer’s permanent installation at the new Comcast Technology Center in Philadelphia.