Dan Channels His Own Inner Richard Blanco

After our recent attendance at the Richard Blanco poetry reading at the Merrill Auditorium in Portland, I got thinking about the narrative poetry I wrote some twenty years ago.  During our daughter Robyn’s treatment for leukemia, I kept a daily journal about our family life.  A couple of years later when I decided to write about that time, I found I couldn’t remember what we did each and every day.  What I had in my journal were moments and narrative poetry allowed me to capture those moments.

I have three poems to share with you.  The first one is before we even knew that something big was going on.  Robyn is four years old.

Lately

sometimes between eleven and twelve

Robyn’s fierce sobbing startles me

Mommy, mommy.

By the second Mommy

Hannah usually rolls left

climbs the stairs

lifts a disconsolate Robyn to her lap.

Though tonight

Hannah doesn’t stir,

so I roll right

playing the martyr,

plod up to the girls’ room

thinking

What the hell is going on?

Aren’t kids supposed to be sleeping

through the night

by the time they’re four?

At her bedside

my whisper is loud and exasperated

Robyn, sweetie

What’s wrong?

Sobbing and bobbing her head

I pull her to me

she forms to my body

I kiss her forehead

as her face nestles into my chest,

my eyes close in the night-lighted darkness.

I chant more than sing

Sleep Robyn sleep.

Then with my hand cradling her neck

I settle her head on two pillows

kiss her cheek

Sweet Dreams, Robyn

Is one night’s sleep

too much to ask?

We had no idea how wrong things were for Robyn that fall.  The title of my book, Sweet Dreams, Robyn, came from this poem.

The next poem is from a time when Robyn was in treatment (undergoing chemotherapy, radiation was complete).  Hannah and I would alternate times staying at Maine Medical Center with Robyn when her fever spiked and she needed to be hospitalized.  Molly is six and Will is two.

After two days

of playing mom and dad

to Molly and Will,

heating up the lasagna Hannah left in the freezer

reading the nighttime stories

getting them dressed fed and off

to school and to the sitter

by seven

I’m ready for a break

ready to exchange roles.

As I turn off I-295

to Lisa’s Pizza

where Han and I will share

the three ninety-nine pizza and fries special

I think of Koufie

this morning at school.

 

How do you do it?

I couldn’t do it

if it was me.

 

I just do

 

The strength

was always there,

but until I needed it

I just didn’t know I had it.

Anyway

I had no choice.

Robyn needed me.

The third poem takes us back home and life with two very active kids during the two years of Robyn’s chemotherapy.

Mom Mom Mom

blasts down from the skylight room

through the kitchen to our bedroom

where Hannah wrestles

with Will

on our king-size bed

trying to pull up the pants

on this two and half year old

wild sack of potatoes.

Molly if you need to talk to me

please come down

I’m dressing Will.

 

Once free of Hannah’s grasp

Will tears out

to the living room.

Mom, can you cut me an apple

and while you’re at it

can I have some yogurt with granola?

 

Molly, we are having dinner soon

you can have some carrot sticks

with your apple if you want.

 

Mom

Will has my sweater

And he won’t give it back.

Instantly

Will throws it at Molly

and runs to his room.

Thank goodness

for these two kids.

It’d be too much

if Robyn were an only child.

And I had the time to dwell

on all that is happening to her

And all that could.

Today, at 29, Will works in the athletic department at Merrimack College (MA); at 31, Robyn is a home health care aide and artisan; at 33, Molly is a public school teacher, married to Tip, and mother to preschool Owen Daniel.

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