By the time she took her first step at 10 months,
Elizabeth had already changed so many times
I had suffered a whole string of losses.
The deep-sleeping wiggler was gone,
as was the toothless sucker of nipples,
the rolling giggler bent on sitting up,
the crawler who had not yet found reverse.
Always, with each achievement –
the new tooth, the proud holding
of her own spoon, tied shoelaces,
training wheels bent and unneeded –
came the hard knowing
that some part of her life was now over,
as gone as last night’s shadows,
as forever as a broken knife blade.
When I walk in this small-town Vermont cemetery,
read the history of influenza
on all the tiny stones that just say Baby,
I am beat down by true loss.
And yet, tonight, as I hold
this chewed copy of Pat The Bunny
and talk to you in another state,
holding your own baby who reaches
for the off button of your laptop,
I feel the hundred small cuts of your growth,
the hundred dark moments
of each new separateness,
the hundred small stones marked Baby,
and First Grader, and Brownie,
And I wonder if, when I call you,
sometimes you hear through the wire
the hundred echoes of missing
as I say I love you.
Roderick Bates has published poems in The Dark Horse, Stillwater Review, Naugatuck River Review, Hobo Camp Review, and Rat’s Ass Review (which he now edits). He also writes prose, and won an award from the International Regional Magazines Association for an essay published in Vermont Life.