I am going to tell you the story of the night my mother-in-law gave me quite possibly the greatest gift an MIL could ever give a girl. (No, it is not her son, though he’s not all bad.)
It’s a summer evening in Northern Michigan. (No, this is not a Kid Rock song.) Jesse and I are sitting around a fire in the backyard of his aunt and uncle’s summer home. We’re on vacation with his family. There has been swimming and playing with cousins. There has been blueberry picking and ice cream eating. Now my girls are tucked into their beds, while the fire crackles and sparks, and we adults settle in to enjoy a Michigan summer’s night as only Michigan can do it.
But the stars have just come out. Here is the Milky Way, one sister-in-law says, and here is Ursa Major, another one says. Someone asks if Venus is out.
I see nothing but glitter. I did not grow up looking for the universe’s stars. I can name the buildings that light up the Chicago skyline, but I do not know Gemini. I cannot see Orion’s belt.
Harper can. She’s recently learned several of the constellations and since late winter, has been keeping a star journal, marking what she sees just before she goes to bed.
She should see these stars, I think. She shouldn’t miss them. I should wake her up. I say all this out loud as I shift in my camp chair. No one says this is a good idea. No one says anything at all. I uncross my legs and shove my hands underneath my thighs. “I’d hate for her to miss this,” I say. “I should go and get her.”
An owl hoots.
“Let it go, Callie,” my mother-in-law says.
It is not gentle when she says it. It is fiercely comedic and fiercely generous, and I realize that only a mother who’s gone before me and knows the stars in all their glory will be out again can say these words to me. She has never spoken to me this way, and hearing her, I understand how much I’ve wanted someone to say these words to me. Not, “You are enough,” or “you’re a good mom.” Not, “You are loved.” Not, “It’ll be okay.” But, “Let it go, Callie.”
Harper is 8 and Hadley is 10, and it feels as if I have exhaled for the first time since becoming a mother. I laugh. At myself, at my mother-in-law, at Jesse who watched me with fear flickering in his eyes when his mom told me to make like Elsa.
I laugh and everything inside me loosens. I look up at the stars and see nothing but the light that has shone for thousands of years not so I might understand it, but that I’d have a chance to see it.
Write a poem about a summer’s evening when you were shocked into rest, into relaxation, into the joy of the season simply for the season’s sake.
Thanks to everyone who participated in last week’s poetry prompt. Here’s one from Michelle Ortega we enjoyed:
It’s quiet in the courtyard this afternoon,
the day after Isaias. You’d never imagine
how yesterday the rain whipped, branches
flew low through green-leaf confetti, except
the heat and humidity broke– outside,
I can finally breathe. Overnight the sun
has shifted, still warm, but the breeze
is cooler, shadows sharper, birds already
making plans that we can’t, flying south,
while the tops of the trees buzz with
cicadas in the afternoon. It’s quiet here
without the daycare kids, the developmentally
disabled adults who walk the square
for exercise after lunch, even the others
who come to the pain clinic on Tuesday
evenings. Everyone home, waiting for power
to be restored or still hiding from The Virus.
Even the people who want to move are stuck
behind tree limbs that block roads.
Photo by michaellechman,Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Callie Feyen.
Browse more poetry prompts
I have been a fan of Callie Feyen’s writing for quite some time but I finished this book in almost one sitting. You do not need to be a teacher to have instant admiration for her honesty, vulnerability, and true dedication to her students. She uses her own personal storytelling as the tool to teach one of the greatest stories of our time creating an instant connection to her students as well as to you the reader. If you have ever been in 8th grade, fallen in love, had a best friend, or loved reading, you will love this book. As the mother of an 8th grader, my other genuine hope is that my son will one day have a teacher as gifted as Callie.
– Celena Roldan
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Michelle Ortega says
Thanks for including my poem!!
Your MIL gave such a gift. I still need that reminder sometimes!
Jenna Brack says
I love this story, Callie!
We cross a narrow board,
thin as a fillet,
onto a rickety dock. He wants
to catch fish, I want to catch
He casts a net, pulls up a minnow
with gaping gills and wide eyes,
slides it onto a hook. I lament
this practice, using living things
to catch living things
But that’s how
you fish, he says.
He casts his rod, the sun
crosses the narrow bridge
between day and night,
ripple the sky, and I watch
with my mouth gaping
and eyes open, trying to catch
the enormity of life
with one slender hour
We leave, two silhouettes
crossing back to shore.
He has caught
no fish, the sun has evaded
But it was a perfect night
for fishing, he says.