Poems by Reta Graham 2017

Reta Graham poetRETA BRASHEARS GRAHAM is a poet, writer and physician with a particular interest in faith and the resiliency of the human spirit.  As a traveler to such far-flung places as Papua Indonesia and the northwestern shores of Lake Victoria in Tanzania, she witnessed communities coming together to overcome great challenges, from maternal and infant mortality to gender based violence.  In 2014 she cofounded Mama Maisha, a nonprofit that partners with resource limited communities in Tanzania to train local women as advocates for maternal and reproductive health. She is an OBGYN and mother of two who currently lives in the mountains of western North Carolina.  She writes poetry to connect to the God of her understanding.

Her mind is numb and empty
as her body starts and stalls
No words can come
she’s all she has
let’s listen as she falls

The candle light
so thin and bright
illuminates a soul
whose found no home despite
her own remorse at bar’s last call

Mara Rucki’s “Spleen” 1949).

The end of the day
Music drips from the speakers
Bathing home and heart

The gift

the gift of your body slippery and shining as the moment I first met you
a body so new, entering the world
the gift of your cry, lusty and strong
the gift of a placenta filled with our blood, the life-giving organ heavy and red, the gift of warmth and safety as the attendants dried your beautiful skin, the gift of skilled medicine, unneeded at that moment but comforting nevertheless, the gift of oblivion in your dark blue eyes as we connected, you and I, even as the cord joining us was severed, the gift of daylight and grape juice, a childhood taste paired with a mother’s first moments, the gift of healing of rest of peace of enough
All were pieces that fell into place for one mother one baby one moment
I knew the gifts were many, that birth could mean, does mean loss of life to
other mothers other babies other souls are gifts as well that weigh on me in the dark mornings as I think of you, you who are my son, you who are my gift

All doors

All doors to the house stood open
the calls were shrill at first
the child who had been forgotten
disappeared and they feared the worst

how is it that one small life
can be overlooked for so long
the doors they all stood open
the child she was simply gone

the mother found her solace in the bottle
e father he up and left
the sister was lost to another
the brother alone was bereft

a world where one child may wander
to find either friend or foe
becomes the stuff of nightmares
when the trail fades away just so

oh child that is ne’er forgotten
surely you’ve found your home
know there will be no replacement
for an angel who walked alone

Dogwood in bloom

Battered and torn and tired
Taking the morning walk

I find a dogwood in fullness
It’s blossoms a beacon of light

The joy it proclaims here defiant
sweet contrast to headlines today

Such truths brought by green and white gladness
For any with senses to stay

Perhaps when the bipeds grow distant
The tree gifts divine notes aplenty

If only one could grasp the cipher
Her spring song could bring epiphany

Ant care plan – or the morning Ada saved a life

This morning you told me about
the ant you found on your windowsill
that she lay motionless and you feared she
had died in the cold night, but
unperturbed, you found her some
bits of potato chip and a few drops of water–
you left provisions there, trusting the miracle of
life would overcome the cold hard truth of
an ant’s small reality and
you were right—
the patient responded
to your conscientious care and
the next time you checked she was gone,
that is to say, you believed
she had awoken from her nap, brushed herself off
and moved on to new adventures
to me your tale remains
a perfect illustration of
the laws of love and life:
witness a need,
do what you can, and
allow the miracle to happen

The giver

She serves the table
with a grace unnoticed
like a queen holding her head up high
her lips red and full
Conversations continue and
she makes her presence scarce, fading
with the skill of a magician
practicing a disappearing act

Perhaps she has come just for this moment
as she travels home – she is ethereal in nature
the high brow and knoll lined eyes
masking a wisdom that is beyond time
She brings wine and bread as
sustenance for the rowdy and is
satisfied to move through the world

with the shadow of yesterday
and the promise of tomorrow
I find myself torn
the half that dares to hope
held by the half that fears to open

while I clench my jaw and close my
eyes in anticipation of pain
I create suffering
by resisting, my heart song is silenced
this I know from experience

But what of love?
is it truly so that consciousness can
believe all things
hope all things
and, in doing so, manifest
a future where all is possible?

Today I open to the possibility
that hope can heal a fractured heart
that connection, while soothing my frantic mind,
will show the universe is kind
Today I find myself, once again
at a crossroads
choosing love

Without the wind I would never know how strong I am
The icy fingers that claw my face like a deep and
ancient fear cannot stop the beating of my heart.
The voices calling in the distance are swept away.
Without the wind their taunts might take hold in some
tender corner of my soul.

Without the wind the warmth of home seems effortless
and common: smiling faces and familiar smells become less
than the exotic and unknown.
The grey mist motivates a quick return.
Unlike Odysseus and Ithaca
I am held, carried and expedited to the comfort of my safe nest.


My ancient feathered beings
fearless in the grasses still
Your efforts end in sweet pearls
golden gifts each day


Orange fire becomes
Ailment and Analgesic
Balm to the aching soul and light to the veins
The burn, sweet yet aching touches the tongue with flames that lick slowly down from base to tip
As the drying process moves through each fruit
Transformation, like magic, takes scarlet to ochre and back again
as the heat rises from supple neck to hollow of throat to
cheek and, finally,
tongue tastes fire.
While lips burn and smolder,
pain fades leaving skin renewed.

Sun sweetens
the gift from Guinea.
I celebrate Aleva Bird from paradise
who rings true to my empty middle.
Pay the price ye nonbelievers
Find solace in your skepticism while
I indulge in the sublime Capsicum
The soothing heat that heals all that ails you

M word

I am empty
When I feel the surge of
Fear fills me then surges through me
Leaves me shaken and jittery
Meet me where I think I am
No meet me where I need to be
You fix me.
You fix me?

fills my ears as
I see the three of you
tangled together enraptured
by play

Minuet in G Major

The rise and fall of slender wrists and angular elbows
line by line and measure by measure
accents fragrant notes
as floral scent on
pressure points
a room

The intricacy of agile fingers across the keys
morphs into a theatrical display
with ten dancers

A shadow of concentration crosses your face
while the room expands
and contracts with
your breath

This knowing deeply, exquisitely tender from onset is so
bittersweet as I watch you
turn from shadow to light
fearful contracted heart
blooming once

the weather

It’s like the weather, she said, you don’t take it
personally when it thunders and storms.
It’s just a passing thing.
So why do we think we are
in charge of each other?
What makes us so sure?


My love for you is a palimpsest
Washed and wrung out
Scraped clean by life
by years together
Babies crying
Spit up and diapers
Moments of lovemaking peppered with sleep.
You are a manuscript upon which my heart writes the ballad
Meant for me to create.
Knowing the pain of rebirth and all that it brings,
I find myself asking, will this next time
be the last time
that we begin

Don’t blink

Window shade lifts and falls
out of the edge of my vision
I sense you are there
you of the blue eyes
and tangled curly locks
you and your tiny body
still warm and sweet
from sleep.
How often have
I missed the miracle
of your heart and mind
as I move through my day
my checklist
my duties
and find the urgency
of these unimportant things
takes precedence over
your questions
and joyful plans
and tales of a future in
circus performing
or veterinary medicine?
If I turn this way or that
what treasures will I find
in your voice
your smile
your creative mind?
but now in this moment, as
I sense your proximity to
my arms, I am reminded
that time will annex all and
this – next – breath
you will be different.
You will change
and grow,
frame by frame,
as I blink.


The cars rush by
like bees in a hurry
to get home.
I find myself
imagining the ocean
and my heart aches
for the ebb and flow
of the tides.

Girl with Ribbons

Her hair whips in the wind
as she careens down
the broken sidewalk
while we might miss her
brown scrawny legs and thin body for
want of something more poetic
those ribbons in her hair
red as rubies
mark her for more dramatic fates
then those merely determined
by playground battles
What futures she might find
we can only wonder
Tragedy remains alongside
aspirations of a girl in this cruel
yet hopeful world

gate in the woods

walking the woods
I found a gate made
of two dead trees
their bodies had tipped
in death and weighted
down by weather and time
their tips moved towards
each other and the
shape was an arch of sorts
wide at the bottom with trunks
that gripped the earth at
a distance – still the peak
of the two seemed perfect
and final as if they’d been
lovers who knew they
were dying but desired
each other so desperately
their final embrace
now intertwined
for all time

Sunrise in March

One morning
as I sped down
the corridor
between tasks
just completed and
the ones yet calling
for my attention
I passed a sunrise
just begun. The
window in that particular
hallway stretches
the length with glass
on both sides and
the one faces east.

I often choose to walk that way.

The sun had just risen
over the mountains.
Magenta and coral
blazed forth
with the fire of
the first morning rays.
The sky, still dark
at its edges, was brooding
over the night’s events,
as I had been
only a breath before.
The crying and raised voices,
the hands outreached
and bodies in need
of healing were heavy
on my heart and mind,
but the sunrise
bathed my spirit, and the weight
lifted, as my eyes adjusted to
the light.
Isn’t it the way of things
that beauty surrounds us
every moment
with such potential
to wash away
the suffering
if we will only raise our gaze,
and notice?