Dear Mama / Watercolor / They Tell Us to Live in the Moment Because the Moment is All We May Have

Dear Momma

The world is quiet at 5AM—these days I wake early to hear a whisper
if one should come and say something I really need
to hear. The leaves are turning—soon it will be your favorite time
of year when the snow falls in flakes so large it sits on
our lashes. I remember the snowballs you would make and how
you were never good with your aim. There are times
I want our childhood back to watch the ice break off at the shoreline
and float away when the sun begins to warm the waters of Lake
Superior early spring. Or spend whole Saturdays planting the pink
and purple candy-striped petunias you loved
in flower boxes and along the borders of our little sidewalk. We don’t
have time anymore to stand and watch a thing happen
in slow motion. Your body changed so swiftly and I was hundreds
of miles away. A phone call to tell me you would never speak
again or be anywhere near the same. Now I find you whenever I see
an amethyst or feel the first blush of winter on
my face. I won’t let myself imagine I am listening for your voice because
you are still in body, and to listen for your spirit
would suggest you passed away—and with that passing, a haunting,
and with that haunting a void as if the next world
is something, but nothing at all. The trees stretch their necks into
this still darkened sky—you were always my person. I hold
the last letter you sent me, trying to grasp the meaning of poorly scrawled
I love you’s as, what the doctors call, an automatic phrase.


It’s an education, learning to let the paint bleed and roam across a page.
The impulse is control—keep the lines straight and the colors
from mixing. But in fact, the lucid plume of hues, bulging towards
the edges, is what relaxes the eye as it travels
by impressions. She is
difficult to look at, white flesh a series of folds cascading into water,
milky from unscented soap. My father
moves a washcloth over and in and under as my mother
makes cooing sounds pointing at her toes. She wants him to scrub
her dry feet—soft purple and veined in this light.
A candle burns atop the bathroom counter next to a bottle of fingernail polish.
A woman loves her image when it flickers in the shadows.
My father will hold the tiny brush badly, glossed coral flirtatious in this light.

They Tell Us to Live in the Moment Because the Moment is All We May Have

Coos Canyon forms a natural pool, shallow at points, deep at others.
Local Mainers come here on hot days to cool off. My bikini is in the car
but we have stopped here for only a moment to feel the water
slide through the smooth rocks and our toes. Dylan takes photo after
photo of me sitting on a dry surface between currants, telling me to be careful
not to slip. I tell him I am careful just before I nearly slip. He eyes me,
smiling, already getting how I am. The sun is feverish this late August evening
and we have just hiked down a mountain. I want to soak my whole body
in the pool like the other swimmers taking advantage of this perfect
summer day, each mellow vortex swirling between my toes and around
the rocks begging me to enter their dervish. The water feels sanguine
in its time pushing back at any thought for tomorrow or the next day
or the day after that. Dylan steps lightly over flat rocks as the canyon swallows
the current beyond and beneath us then carries it away. I need to get back, I say.
Michigan. The water gurgles in reply as he fidgets with his phone,
high noon reflecting off its surface and falling all around us like confused
snow, the pools shimmering up. Will I ever hear from you again? he asks,
walking beside me toward the parking lot leaving the question behind.
We drive the pined road away from the canyon, longer for its silence—
no plan, no pause, no projected ambitions—no language for phrasing goodbye.

Kimberly Ann Priest is the author of Slaughter the One Bird (Sundress Publications 2021) as well as chapbooks Still Life (PANK 2020), Parrot Flower (Glass 2020), and White Goat Black Sheep (FLP 2018). Winner of the 2019 Heartland Poetry Prize in the New Poetry from the Midwest anthology by New American Press, she is currently an Assistant Professor of First-Year Writing at Michigan State University, an associate editor for the Nimrod International Journal of Prose and Poetry and a reader for Embody at The Maine Review. Find more of her work at