Climb the stairs. Take the call.
Stand by the old green chair.
Don’t sit down.
Hear your mother say
It’s cancer.

Don’t answer right away.
Clamp down your fear
before you speak.
Grip the green chair’s frame.
You only get one chance:
say the right things right.
Your hands and voice can’t shake.

Take the dress you wore that day.
Throw it out. Tell it
you don’t care
it is the color
of peach blossoms. Throw out the chair
and the photos of your mother, younger, your age,
slender in the blossom-colored dress she wore

before she passed it on to you.
Regret this even as you do it.

Do it. You must
throw out everything,
throw in anything to fill the pit in time
opened by your hesitation. Ask: What did you say
to ease your mother’s fear? What did you say
to ease her grief? What did you say? What
did you say?
The question will not go away because

the pause between her words
and your reply
is all you remember.

Rose Strode is a recipient of the “Undiscovered Voices” fellowship from The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Her personal essays have appeared in The Gettysburg Review, The Little Patuxent Review, The Delmarva Review, and Viator; her poetry has appeared in Poet Lore. When she is not writing she wanders around in the woods looking for tracks. She enjoys gardening and fixing things that are broken. She is a finalist for the DC Poets Project publication prize.

Image: Ferdinand Hodler [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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