communion photo frame
There Is a Picture of My Mother on My First Communion Day
by Karen Keefe

I am where I don’t belong.
Children cannot visit their mothers in the hospital
even on special days.

Dressed all in white I run from the hall to your hospital bed
and stop. I just look at you. Mama.
Your smile is tiny. Your eyes are so blue.
You can’t sit up, but your hand reaches out to me.
Fingers tangled in my hair
you pull me into you. I won’t let go.

This visit is a special secret, just for you, just for me.
Daddy snuck me in. I am afraid he is going to get in trouble.
You are singing to me. You always sing to us but today
your voice is a whisper.

I cry. It is time to step away.
I don’t want to leave you here.
When daddy drives me home
there will be cake.
My brothers and sisters are waiting.
All the cousins are coming.

You tell me it is ok to be happy
today. You give me a little red box. Inside are new rosary beads.
When you kiss my palm, you close my fingers around the kiss.
Now I can bring you home with me
and each of your children can press your kiss against their cheek.

PHOTO: First communion photo frame, available on eBay.

Karen - 1st Communion

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: In many ways the crafting of this poem holds the evolution of my voice as a writer. I began this poem more than 40 years ago while I was a student at Harpur College. The version here holds many of the elements of my first efforts but now I can fully show the beauty of this memory. I know so many years later it is important to show the full measure of heartbreak and joy. I do not need to pretend it is anything else.  This day, this moment is the definition of my relationship with my truly special parents. As a family we found ourselves in a challenging and isolating experience: devastating illness. They insisted on trying to find the best way through it. Much of the time they succeeded. They always made sure that I and my brothers and sisters knew how loved we were. Both were fierce about making good memories during what could have been a devastating and sad time, one that would have been nothing but traumatic. This memory is of the day I learned something can happen that is so very sad and fiercely happy at the same time. I also learned there is a time to break a rule. My mother did return home after this hospitalization but this illness was a presence in our lives for the next 10 years. She died just before I graduated high school. She was an amazing person.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: This is a picture of me at the First Communion party. As you can see, it was a joyous day.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Karen Keefe (she, her) is now retired from international education, though her heart is scattered throughout the world with friends who gifted her bringing humility, deeper perspective, honesty, and love. She earned a BA in rhetoric and creative writing from Binghamton University (Harpur College). She also holds a MA from Binghamton University in Student Affairs with Diversity.  She was one of the editors of the now closed, The Parlor City Review and published in Anima: An Experiential Journal. She is the featured poet in the August 2022 issue of Anti-Heroin Chic. She has poetry forthcoming in the Winter Issue of POETiCA REViEW. A resident of Vestal, New York, she can be found on Twitter @karen_keef.