Robin Greene: 2 poems

How to Help Your Mother Die

for E. Greene, 1929-2020

Open a window. Allow the naked 
air to sweep the room where 

your mother lies. Then yield to grief, 
the vessel that will carry you 

over waves of personal history—
memories crashing, breaking 

like swells onto shore, insisting you 
surrender to the most difficult 

work you’ll ever do. Then, close
your eyes; imagine a forest 

of baren trees and a flock of dark 
crows rising from an empty field, 

the place where you must leave 
childhood behind. And as you 

recognize death’s soft shadow 
hovering above, kiss 

your mother’s cheek, inviting 
her return to that original home.  


With daylight hours away, I make coffee 
and sit in the darkness of my living room, 

honoring all darkness—and silence, another 
darkness. I think of my mom, who died 

last year, mouth open, as if halted 
in song; her ashes in a cardboard box now

in my closet. And my own death, traveling 
toward me at lightspeed, heat-seeking, 

suggesting I’m next. Each day, I’m told, 
is an unpromised gift, waiting 

like an Amazon box delivered to the front porch. 
Later, when I open mine, I’ll find what I never 

ordered: lost photos, a sewing kit, a mirror, 
and a dead hawk. My mom lived until ninety-one; 

afraid of death and suffering, she vanished in a blur 
of morphine and sleep. At the end, whatever 

her thoughts, she never spoke them. Whatever 
insights her box contained, it remained unopened. 

Robin Greene teaches Writing and Yoga in Western North Carolina, and is the author of five books (The Shelf Life of Fire; Real Birth: Women Share Their Stories; Augustus: Narrative of a Slave Woman; Lateral Drift; Memories of Light). She’s cofounder and board member of Longleaf Press ( and regularly publishes her poetry, fiction, and nonfiction in journals and magazines.


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