Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg


I wake to sleep and take my waking slow.
                                    ~ Theodore Roethke

I don’t how how to love the broken day.
Pandemic losses bloom, die, and return.
What I thought was stone begins to sway

like trees that bend until wind has its way
in storms that clean the world before it turns
into what helps me love the broken day.

The blue air shakes and shows me how to stay
while black-eyed susans thirst for light and learn
that everything, like stone, begins to sway.

No wonder when I’m scared, I’m prone to pray
for ground I thought my thinking heart could earn.
I don’t how how to love the broken day

or storied night that has so much to say
of bats and blossoms, stars and birds airborne
in time, like stone, that slowly learns to sway.

The daylight filters through us, ray by ray.
Like all that blooms and dies while the world burns,
I don’t how how to love the broken day.
What I thought was stone begins to sway.


When was our uncle’s funeral, we ask each other, 
but who can say? Sometime between the tornado 
and pandemic, a swath of time suspended from 
a bird feeder even the squirrels avoid.

All we remember is the fried chicken—
eagerly ferried from Chicken Annie’s, or was it 
Chicken Mary’s?—back over the Kansas border 
to us, visiting for hours on cold leather couches
in the funeral home in Joplin, running out of things 
to talk about and liable to trip into politics,
or, although the tornado wiped out wide diagonals 
of this town, including our uncle’s house, climate change.

So we lean on time, a background character 
and unreliable narrator, who is an ocean of tranquility
pushing pebbles of stunned recollections back to us: 
the crunch of the fried chicken, a badly angled photo
of half-somber cousins we love and haven’t seen for years,
a crying baby we pass around as we sway-walk her calm.

We pass time in our rigid suits or ill-fitting dresses, 
worn last at the last funeral when our uncle was alive,
a pallbearer even, a gentleman always, easy with pauses, 
happy to tell us how, in the 40s, somewhere in Arizona, 
he and the other soldiers watched from two miles away
what turned into a mushroom cloud, an A-bomb test
that planted the cancer in him that makes him invisible today

but still present, loving in his repose and politeness, 
so willing go get the chicken but tranquil enough 
to smile at us in the deep quiet between words.

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Ph.D., the 2009-13Kansas Poet Laureate, is the author of 24 books, including How Time Moves: New & Selected Poems; Miriam’s Well, a novel; Needle in the Bone, a non-fiction book on the Holocaust; and The Sky Begins At Your Feet: A Memoir on Cancer, Community, and Coming Home to the Body. Founder of Transformative Language Arts, she leads writing workshops widely, coaches people on writing and right livelihood, and consults on creativity.