Winner of the Stephen Dunn Prize in Poetry: Via Dolorosa

for Dan, my brother


I was walking toward the kitchen window

when I heard it—Sunny, Summer Breeze,

Greensleeves—something from the early


70s our mother was always playing

on the piano then. I was walking toward an open

window, then I was drifting


through, was back in our old sandbox

in Portage, Wisconsin, beside the fence our neighbor, Mr.

Fields, painted white each year. I was building


a house in sand.


It might have been our house. We might have lived there,

half in sun, half in the shadow of

our real house, our mother inside painting


everything white on the piano. Painting the sun white,

painting the grass white. Painting the slow

breeze moving through the elms


of a song white. Painting the house inside of which

I remember, now, a coat of sunlight

on the wall, the kitchen wallpaper’s copper kettles and spoons


fading into it


across the room. Sunlight like a reverie of white

across the empty table and chairs. Everything

fading into it. Even the song our mother was playing. Even


her face half there.


You know how the mood coloring

everything, whatever mood you happen to be in, goes white

the instant you hear glass shatter on the road?


That white. That why-can’t-I-get-anything-right sound


of a dead chord. Our mother’s hands

stumbling. Trying the chord again.



white I woke to once


out of a dream. I dreamt

I was a teenager again, my bedroom

in the basement, below yours. I was


alone. Something dark: a shadow—no,

water pooling on the ceiling, oozing

from it, running down the wall. Then, I


saw blood punctuating Mom’s cry:


Oh Daniel. No!



The dream was wrong. She was

the suicide. But what if it were you? What

if it were me? Then wouldn’t our


mom’s suicide be her cry?

You know how some days

you’ll feel you’ve heard a cry your whole


life, but you can’t say who is gone?

Something was always missing.

We brought the sandbox with us


when we moved. It cracked and rotted.

The piano went unplayed and

out of tune. Mr. Fields is probably


dead now too. If the fence needs

a new coat of paint, I don’t know. I was

in this kitchen. I was building a


house in sand. When I looked up

from the house we might have lived in—a mound

I’d dug and dug into until its emptiness


went deeper than sand—when I turned to

the house where we lived, I was listening for the piano

to begin again.


Some days it did.

  1. Claire Keyes on

    Fabulous poem. The poet dares to write about a subject —a mother’s suicide—in a tender but explicit way. Bravo.

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