The Shine Journal

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Three from Jane Butkin Wagner


One Sliver

What will save her
from the weight
of the world
on her sad child shoulders
will be simple

an invitation to the party
a conversation with her teacher
making the field hockey team

What will save her
when she dreams of parents
bad enough to leave
or the gleam of steel
in her small hands

What will save her
will be simply
what is or isn’t in her view one day
one sliver of a day
like a window she can look through

to see the gun
in her father’s drawer
the pills
in her mother’s cabinet
or you
walking towards her
with your smile and a few words
to light her way

Wearing my dead mother’s clothes

as if keeping close to my skin
the garments that were next to her own
and still smelled of her
would hold her closer

but no matter how many
fittings and alterations and refittings,
I was still, at fifty, 
her little girl playing dress-up

until, finally, I gave away her clothes
to those who had no part of their history

as I chose to hold my mother’s memory
in other places


At first, a small lapse. Nothing more.
You held up an apple, searching for the word.
Struggling to name your favorite fruit.

By the next day, your confidence back,
you grabbed words as if you owned them.
Threw them around
to show them who was boss.

But your words were wrong. 
You called a box of candies “ponies”
and offered ponies to the nursing staff.

Your doctor called it brain salad syndrome.
Such a random tossing
of my mother's brain,
mixing up her memory,
altering her politics,
removing her passion,
her wit,

Motivation:  My motivation for One Sliver was news of the awful impact of today's bullies and cyber-bullies, while reflecting on my own childhood, which was a loving, supportive one; but one not without pain. My intense shyness and introspection, even at a very young age, caused some tremendous psychic pain for a brief period. I survived, life got a lot more joyful, but I'm not sure I could have survived had I not had that one great piano teacher or friend, or if I had had access to a gun or pills...the sliver is that one window of opportunity to save someone or be saved.

Wearing my dead mother's clothes is from the struggle, after my mother's death, to fit in the clothes she had worn to keep a part of her close.  But it never worked.

Missing was motivated from my witnessing the effects of the massive stroke that would quickly end my mother's life. But for the months before her death, it took away who she was. Completely.

BIO: Jane Butkin Wagner's poetry has appeared in numerous journals, including Pearl; Rattle; Spillway; Owen Wister Review; the Jewish Women's Literary Annual; and the Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine. She edited a collection of women's poetry on divorce titled We Used to be Wives: Divorce Unveiled Through Poetry, published by Fithian Press, 2002. A native of Oklahoma City, Jane currently lives in both Houston and Oslo. She has three grown children, a husband, and a dog.

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Editor: Pamela Tyree Griffin

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