compassion

grandmother’s eyes

Her presence is loud.

Her laugh, too.

That sunlight spilling,

floorboard rattling kind of echoing joy.

Looking at me with soft, springtime eyes

seeing me in a golden light, I’m sure,

she holds my hand and smiles.

I look back at her, 

at the marks of the years on her honey colored skin.

And her eyes,

how have I never noticed their depth,

shimmering in the light

as bright and clear as sunshine dancing on water.

It seems impossible 

that these eyes looking into mine,

spilling warmth into mine,

sparkling and reflecting light into mine,

have seen darkness, too.

Have lived in darkness,

carried darkness,

suffered and struggled under the thick, heavy

weight of darkness

until they kicked and clawed 

their way back

into the light.

It seems impossible

that these eyes looking into mine

once looked into the eyes of a father

who played chase with a hammer in hand,

sending her running.

Running towards a mother who complained about the dark

but never cared enough to find the switch

that would turn on the light.

Running from the memory of a brother 

who was sent away forever as soon as mother realized

his mind was fractured.

Running from a sister who used violence

as payback for feeling less loved.


And these sunlight eyes, looking into mine,

spilling warmth into mine,

ran from the dark

and haven’t stopped running ever since. 


I look back at her, 

into her deep water eyes

and wonder what it must be like 

to be so full of sunshine 

and so afraid of the dark.


prayer hands

It’s not your fault, I say

as he stares down at his hands,

rubbing his thumb against his palm, as if trying

to wash something off 

that only he can see.

He carries a weight most of the time,

heavy in his chest.

I know because I’ve gotten close enough

to hear it pounding from somewhere inside,

ringing like a grandfather clock,

rattling his bones with echoes that sing,

I’m not enough.

I’m not enough.

You are enough, I say,

louder this time. Praying that the noise

of my words will sink into his skin

and drown out the cold ringing in his chest

with words that are softer,

warmer. Truer.

He’s told me that sadness runs like a river through him,

pumping doubt through his veins,

telling him that his pain is his fault.

No one knows that he’s drowning in his own ocean,

but I do.

I look at his hands as they shake,

and wonder how can someone so sturdy

can be so broken. 


It’s not your fault.

His head is bowed, and his hands now

clasped together, as if in prayer,

or maybe they’re holding onto something

only he can see.

But for a moment, he lifts his chin

long enough for his eyes to meet mine. 

He’s heard me. And I pray that

he believes me.


father’s arms

My father’s arms are a promise,

sturdy and safe and strong.

Two forces of protection wrapped up

in Georgia clay skin, golden and smooth.   

His eyes are hazel kaleidoscopes,

containing endless corridors of mystery and certainty.

His face, a soft and sure resolution.

We will be okay as long as he’s around.

But a disease is settling into his body,

breaking down the door without an invitation,

rearranging our tomorrows like old furniture.

I’ve been watching it shift everything

that was once so settled,

stamping an expiration date on his heartbeat

and demanding to call all the shots. 

He told me that he can’t be

my rock anymore.

Because the strength is being taken from his body

like a stolen promise.

How can I still hold on 

to a promise

once it has disintegrated into disappointment. 

My father’s arms,

can’t wrap around us like they used to

when they were sturdy and safe and strong.

Tears crystalized into ice

in my eyes in the bitter February air

before they could fall.

Dammit I couldn’t even cry

for my father’s arms,

hanging limp at his sides.

 
Ivey Redding