Jodie Kliman

Sparrow Bellies

The earth warms, its belly rounding
Pregnant, as I never was with you.
Sparrows, chickadees, a pair of cardinals
Bluejays and pigeons, and birds whose
Names I forgot or never knew
Crowd the birdfeeder that replaced 
The one your brother gave me one birthday
And then was stolen from us, remember?

A bereft father I know once told me he found
His son’s soul whenever he saw, I forget
Which kind of bird, but I loved the image
And chose sparrows for you.
All sparrows, interchangeably,
Stand in for you, impassively
Accepting my diluted offer
Of replacement mother love.

Jacob, when you still toddled,
With unsturdy, diapered struttings
Your little lean frame turned convex after meals
Rounded at the tummy like the sparrows
That flock to feed, only to flee as one
When your big dog pounces out.

When your tiny belly still waxed and waned
In rapid cycles of a moon refilled thrice daily
I followed you from room to room
Inserting a few more bites you barely noticed.
You found play more compelling than food.
But the sparrows need no tricks or coaxing
And pay full attention to busy meals,
With ever-rounded bellies to remind me

That your little self radiated a light I once knew
Was joy in life and grounded in it.  But
That light was not of this life, which was too hard
For you, and it lured you back.
Birds fly free, but dependent, outside my window
Keeping me from my work.
Wild, they live but two years, caged, for ten.
You were never tamed; we would not cage you.
Your wild child’s life, free, fraught, also dependent,
Lasted twice a captive sparrow’s life, and no more.

The Camera Doted On You

Open-faced, you gaze right into me
Through the tempered glass and simple frame
That freeze you into a cross-section of broken time.
Your eyes are mossy hazel, set wide and soft,
Your brow untouched by later worries,
Your mouth rounded into an easy smile.

Your baseball cap, on sideways,
Signaling preteen lack of guile,
Blends into the white sky and white fiberglass
Of some fishing boat or another
That you took once with your father or uncle.
The water behind your shoulder is calm
Between you and the misted land receding from view.

The camera always doted on you.
I, studying your image
Feel doted on myself, soothed
As just this one moment is freed
To stand apart from what I know.

Which is, your doting days are over.
The photos turned from new-leaf tender
To late teen anguish and anger.
The last one shifted, yet again, this time to enigma.
Your viewers seek meanings in that Mona Lisa smile,
In which your eyes and the sides of your mouth
Do not quite match their twins.
Were you serene or mischievous, confident,
Or hung over, defiant, or disconnected?
Were you heading for the edge
Or already over it, over us, and over life?

I can see the pictures you wouldn’t let me take
That last year: the one changing a massive truck tire,
And the one of you, all filled out, against Midwestern sky.
But the week of the mystery picture stole all the ones to come.
These I will never remember:
The first one taken with your beloved (who would she be?)
The one of you together with your newborn child, or the one
Of all of you, with all your parents and all your siblings.
The one I would have taken of you with your oldest, at nineteen.
Or all the ones documenting how anguish and anger
Had finished their task of turning back into tenderness. 



Cleaning at Graveside

My visits to graveside.
Do not find me my son
Or even hints of his spirit,
Which are better seen in the faces
Of unknown children kissing our dog
And in smooth stones near water.

What I do find at graveside is the chance
To bring him gifts again. A stone from the Cape,
A late-season rose from our front porch,
A tiny pumpkin, for his Halloween birthday.
And the chance to clean his room once more.
Brushing pine needles and mowed grass
From his name, chiseled in two languages
And wiping off the dried mud and grass stains
That obscure the edges of harsh subtraction
Of birth year from death year.

I rearrange stones weather-scattered
On gray granite, as if I could still
Quietly separate a long ago tiny boy’s
Clean socks from the dirty, or rescue
Forgotten treasures from under his bed,
Or turn jumble back into living space,
Back when it was unthinkable
That I would ever yearn for his messes
Or that his room, of granite and earth now
Could be so spare.

June-November, 2009 

Jodie Kliman is a psychologist who teaches at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology. She has not considered herself a poet since high school days, but poetry has periodically been finding its way to her in the seven years since the death of her son, Jacob. She lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.