Online, I find a picture of your ship
crossing the Strait of Gibraltar,
the rising sun a golden grimace
sailors lined up at the edge,
peering off into the distance—
the first solid land you’ve seen after
days at sea.
I keep enlarging the picture,
straining to see a certain tilt of the head,
maybe a telltale hand gesture—
anything I might recognize—
but everyone looks the same,
like Lego people placed there by
a boy playing at patriotism,
like one of those military ads
that makes war seem Instagrammable—
the successes unbloody,
the backgrounds unsullied,
the loved ones back home—
certain they’ll see you again.
After the last child pulls away
from the family home in a moving van,
she realizes she’s been laid off:
After years of faithful service,
we regret to inform you:
your services are no longer needed.
No one else seems to see the loss.
She’s watched paid workers receive
sympathy after being let go,
but she keeps being told
how nice it must be
that she is now free.
She dreams she’ll write
the Great American Novel,
land a spot on Good Morning America,
explain to the audience that
Yes, she’d felt down after the layoff—
who wouldn’t?—but she’d harnessed that energy
to create this multimillion dollar success
and if she can do it, you can do it, too!
Instead, she lingers in
the kids’ bedrooms, now
stripped of argument and laughter,
mourns that neither one will watch
the leaves of the Norway maple golden,
laments that not one person remains
who likes Saturday morning pancakes.
For longer than she imagines possible, she
stands mute before this cavern of loss,
nurses the fear that she might never emerge.
Eventually, she starts to write:
words break through,
transfigure the pain,
allow her memories to lilt,
flutter far afield,
figure eight with all that she’s become,
beckon her back to possibility.
Jennifer Randall Hotz is an award-winning poet whose work has appeared in Burningword Literary Journal, Naugatuck River Review, and Connecticut River Review, among other publications. She won 1st place in poetry for the Virginia Writers Club 2023 Golden Nib Awards and has been nominated for a 2024 Pushcart Prize. Find her at: jenniferrandallhotz.com