How do you explain mental illness to a child?
My daughter demands to know why
I married her father so long ago.
So I tell her of the times
he and I hiked under the redwood's
soft, spongy skin.
I want to tell her how his hands felt
on my lips and cheek and thigh,
but instead I tell her of the blue jay's caw
that her father's lips called to the air,
and how the jays all swooped around
and scolded loud at his trick.
I do not tell her how many stars we counted
or the heat of her father's warm-muscled weight
on my body.
I tell her, instead, of the time
carried me across the creek,
And the laughter then
in his green-gray eyes
that crinkled in the cracks.
And how her father dried my body first
he shivered from the snow-melted plunge.
And years later --
when my grandfather died
how her father held me on his lap
with arms wrapped securely round
as I cried and needed
arms wrapped securely round.
But she doesn't listen.
Her mind is set.
"People do not change," she says
when we go to visit him.
She thinks he has always been
an empty shell
in that hospital room
with those vacant
Second Place Arandana Caverns Poetry Contest 1/15/03 "Invalid Item"