Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
At A Distance, Imperfectly

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(For Lee)

In this one, helping my son up the stairs,
you are hunched over in that way adults must
to reach a toddler's hand, a miniature ball of sun
reflecting in your lens. Less contrast in photo
than in flesh, developer's choice, I suppose,
between a sky suffused with light,
my pale son, the rich burgundy of your jacket,
and the deep brown earthtones of your skin.

His hand stretches up in yours; he labors for the step.
Your head cocks toward him, mouthing encouragement.
Three times a week, six hours, I know you in passing exchanges.
We speak in a weird falsetto, high-pitched Mommy voices:
"Good morning," "I have to go now, sweetie, bye-bye."
Is it only wishful thinking that makes me like you,
desperation of need?

Once, I picked him up as your shift was ending;
you were walking ahead up the street.
It was your birthday, and I wished I'd known,
but now you were too far away for me to call,
balloons bobbing in rhythm to your gait.
And always, I think, it will be like this --
you a receding figure once I arrive,
as both of us together were too many, somehow.
The fantasy, to split myself into me and you,
and never have to choose.

And so I learn, over and over, the lesson of separation.
The slip into a pool of one's making--
a quiet darkroom, alone, to bar the door,
allow no witness to the developing
but what hints may come through in the final product,
this portrait, knowing it's a pale substitute, really:
how love may be realized at a distance, imperfectly

Alison Hicks is the author of a novella, Love: A Story of Images, and her poetry, fiction and nonfiction have appeared and are forthcoming in Amoskeag, Eclipse, Pinyon, and other literary journals. She is the mother of Jeremy, age three and a half, and leads community-based creative writing workshops under the name Greater Philadelphia Wordshop Studio .

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