How the Light Gets In (Happy Mother’s Day)

Originally posted on May 11, 2008. (Nothing changes, and everything changes.)

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
That’s how the light gets in.
That’s how the light gets in.

-Leonard Cohen, from “Anthem”

I do not want to read a poem
about victims
or suffering
or the battleground between
my fantasy and the reality
of so much struggle

I do not want to read a poem
about martyrs or winners
or the field between
what I wish were so
and what simply is

I do not want to read a poem
about breakfast in bed
or the dream of otherwise
or detours
on the shortcuts of my longing

The poem I want
paints the swing set red
and captures the lilac blooming,
and widens its eyes as the stone
becomes a flower
surrounded by the open spaces I’m missing

This poem would tell me how to loosen
the tightness in my chest,
how to slow the train
that blasts between us
as we yell, yell, yell across walls
dense with trying too hard or not hard enough

Is there a poem out there
for when everything is against the flow
and it’s all I can do to step out
under a wide blue sky
to open my palms
to say thanks

Or maybe I don’t need a poem
but to cry alone in the shower
to flee this house of hornets and sirens
And yet I hold on there, too
resisting collapse, or surrender


It’s Mother’s Day
and the dog threw up at dawn
I rose with a child and went for a run
and we stopped every few minutes
not to admire some small treasure
but to untangle the dog’s leash
from the wheels of the stroller
We talked the whole time,
not about sweetness and light
but in an attempt
to distract the child from chronic discontent

Later, after the dishes and the laundry
the diapers and the dishes again,
I felt the tightening in my chest,
martyrdom rising in me like an unstoppable wave
The happy family breakfast ended
in spills and tears and anger
as I sat feeling powerless
to the shadow side of their closeness

The father rallied
went out to cut tulips
but the girl’s finger got pinched
and I could hear her screaming from two houses away
just as I was about to rinse it all away and start again

And now I remember, as remembering a dream,
what it was like
in my house
not knowing
when things
How I wanted to make everyone happy
and how I learned to disappear


What poem can I read that will unlatch
these locks
allow this reality to breathe
pause this non-stop nation
tell me yes, yes, yes you can feel blessed
and crazed at the same time

What poem has arms big enough for this?
What bells are ringing now?
And how many times must I learn
to forget my perfect offering
to abandon all this effort
and to put down my burden
so that the light can come in
so that the light can come in
so that the light can come in

7 thoughts on “How the Light Gets In (Happy Mother’s Day)

  1. Emily says:

    Wonderful. You’ve captured an essence. Sometimes it is so hard to keep it all in perspective and to let the light in. Thank you, and Happy Mother’s Day!


  2. Beth Patterson says:

    What a mother of a day.

    Nothing to do but to look for the cracks. Cry for the cracks.
    Sniffle out the fissures. Scramble to the canyons.

    I heard there’s water in the bottom of them there arroyos. At least sometimes.

    Love, much love.


  3. tracy says:

    This is the first time I stumbled into your space…and boy, these words were written for me to read. I may read them over and over through out the day. Thank you
    I will be back….



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