My Mother’s Arms

I remember
the smell of a 1965 perfume,
my mother buttoning up my shirt
and sending me off to school.
I remember
reaching for her;
I remember her backing away.

If it was sunny I would skip school
and walk around the lake.
I learned lessons there
that weren’t taught in classrooms—
lessons like
you’re only as strong as what you can’t feel.

After years of study
I became an expert
in not belonging anywhere,
least of all in my mother’s arms.

Now she is gone,
and I walk in a field
where the lake used to be.
The water is replaced by something
that’s between understanding and forgiving.
Maybe she couldn’t love
because she’d never felt loved.
Lessons can be unlearned;
Wounds can heal.