“Grief,” “Clouds in the Sky,” and “Recalculating”

Photo by Ashley Bean on Unsplash


A month after our daughter was born,

we planted a white dogwood. I didn’t know

the legend of the crucifixion wood.

I just liked the symmetry

of the four-petaled flowers, plump white crosses

with bright green pistils in the middle.

We delighted in how trunk and limbs

flourished, how the young, smooth

bark had a radiance even on the rainiest

of mornings. Our daughter grew, too, but

around the time of her own blossoming,

we sensed the start of a slow blight:  a withering

glimpsed out of the corners of our eyes,

transient, unthinkable. When she began to droop,

we tried to clarify the slurred edges

of her poppy-addled speech, explain away

her pinprick pupils, excuse the sudden

rush of flush upon her pale and clammy skin.

We propped her up, sought advice

for how to treat the scourge, but the sickness

was as relentless as black mold

on foundation walls. When we found

we could no longer tolerate white or green

or anything that grew, we fled the garden,

traded the strangle of twisted roots for a place

amid concrete and steel. But still,

green blades push their way through cracks.

Clouds in the Sky

Lower yourself onto the cushion.

Feel your hips, your back resist

before they relax into position.

Observe the mind. See it twist

and twirl like a kite buffeted by wind—

each dip a regret, each rise

a memory you’d like to amend.

Recognize thought. Hear how it cries

promises of joy, elegies for despair.

Bow to all. You know only Here.

All else are fables constructed of air.

Watch a white feather

above a field of spring grass.

With each breath, clouds pass.


I’m in my lane, staying between the center line

and the rough gravel on the shoulder,

when Jack White bursts from the radio

screaming Jo-o-lene and I’m stabbed in the chest

by the spike of red rage and white pain:

I could never love again.

I hear Jack fall to his knees

like I did when they called to tell me

you’d ditched rehab and headed west

towards a tar-colored sun. Heroin’s

my Jolene and I’m pleading along with Jack:


don’t take my man, and I want to say


don’t take my daughter, but that would be

too much — I’d end up in a ditch —

so I yell man to keep myself going. It’s a pretense,

of course. Sometimes delusion is the only

road forward when you cannot compete.

Still, I have to spend the next few miles

recalculating the route to quiet summer meadows,

whole places emptied of red poppies, devoid

of the insistent cries of mourning doves.

About the Author

Cindy Buchanan

Cindy Buchanan was raised in Alaska, has a B.A. in English from Gonzaga University, and was a preschool teacher until she retired. She studies poetry at Hugo House in Seattle, Washington, where she currently lives, and is a member of a two monthly poetry groups. She is an avid runner and hiker and enjoys every opportunity to be outdoors. Her work has been published in Chestnut Review, Evening Street Review, The MacGuffin, Hole in the Head Review, and other journals. Her first chapbook, Learning to Breathe (Finishing Line Press), will be published in 2023.