Instructions for Daughters

Pack sackcloth and ashes in your carry-on.
Bring pens, your toothbrush, a good skirt,
and a magazine you will not read.

At the terminal, do not flinch
at his diminishment.
You are not strong enough
to support the weight of his

grief. You will support it.

Accept tasks before coffee,
urgencies colliding, lists so long
the sun will set
before you have turned the page.

Celebrate the crossing out of items.
Fold laundry. Make soup. Remember.
Say thank you. Do not

be surprised by the number
of times you speak of her
in the present tense. Their home,
their tickets, their checkbook.

Plural fades slowly. Practice.

Distant relatives arrive, circle,
contain his flood of words. Accept
this grace while you continue to sort
and pack her possessions.

Make executive decisions. Regret
them. Cabinets and bookcases will become
the stuff of nightmares. He will bolt
from sleep: searching, inarticulate.
Do not enter his frenzy. Join

the hunt. Preserve her spiral notebooks
filled with travel notes: sixty countries,
five continents, two sentences
a day in her tiny, perfect penmanship.
Tuck them away, destinations to which
he may someday return.

Pray not to make a mistake.
You will make mistakes.

Choose to believe that he is not crying
alone in the dark. Be prepared
to catch him bent double and wailing
when the lost opal pendant slips
suddenly into his hand from a tissue-filled
ziplock he found in the drawer you swear
you checked yesterday:
this one treasure he could not find.

(You cannot be prepared.)

Do not be shocked at his hurry to empty
her side of the closet. It is her faint
cologne that crushes him as he goes
to find his socks in the morning.

Do not break his heart.
Check all the pockets.

Kathryn PaulKathryn Paul has lived in Seattle longer than she has lived anywhere else. She is a survivor of many things, including cancer and downsizing. Carving out time for poetry is the most important thing she does. Her poems have appeared or will appear in Stirring: A Literary Collection, The Fem, Words Dance, and Lunch Ticket’s “Amuse-Bouche” feature.