I begin with what I can’t let go. The bruised morning. 
The breakwater full of ruin. Think of her - the beautiful 
moon receding. What a long dark scarf she's tied me to, 
here, across this country. The space a grave makes.

My dad recounts all the lives he tried to save, 
a friend returned from Vietnam, his mother 
after ninety. I tell him the earth slows 
because of its own tides. His muscles ache 
unused to the weight he is giving them. 

My seven year old brother explains air pollution 
to the boy next door, says it gets inside us- 
the only way to make it leave is to put water
in your mouth, over and over, then spit it out
I know what I should not say. 

Even the most dedicated child must leave 
the frozen fort, and celebrate when spring
unfolds. Still. I remember the cold, the incessant 
pushing there on our knees, snow that would 
not stick, but fell gently into drifts beside us.

I find myself at this gate. The moon has no 
weather we are used to. She puts on her clean 
white robe. She is the whitest owl, night 
inside her beak. My words have fallen out.
I wish we had been lied to.



"This poem is part of a series that explores the realities of terminal illness and living with extended grief born of impending loss. Here, family distress and grief accompany a terminal diagnosis. There are immediate losses – who we understood the person to be a moment before, what we had come to know as normal, and of a future now shifted toward more inevitable loss. There’s a drive toward magical thinking, that our in/actions might change everything. And there’s the sudden vulnerability and foreignness, our loved one, so ephemeral, before us. At the time it was written, I was reading translations of Issa and Jorie Graham’s earlier work. I was also a student of Garrett Hongo and Dorianne Laux. I imagine this, along with my own grief and loved ones, influenced my writing."

Erika Mueller is a writer, mother, and activist. Her visual art and poetry have more recently appeared in Flyway, Hawai’i Pacific Review, Women’s Studies Quarterly, and elsewhere. Mueller holds an MFA from University of Oregon and an MA from Iowa State University. She is currently an Assistant Editor at Cream City Review and lives in Oregon.