Poetry: "My Mother Reads "Kissing Hand" To Me Before Bed"

(a golden shovel poem after the song “You Are My Sunshine”)

Every night before bed, you read “The Kissing Hand” to me. The book with the raccoons. Did you

know that raccoons’ paws are very similar to our own hands? In the morning, the moon fades and you are

ready for what’s become a ritual before school: placing a heart-shaped sticker kiss in each of my

palms so when I miss you, I can rest my chin in those shaking hands and pretend the sunshine

is an ever-present thing. A raccoon’s nocturnal nature doesn’t make sense as a child but, my

god, how I will one day understand to live by the darkness. At seven years old, though, the only

thing I know is my heart feels a little lighter jumping on the trampoline as the last rays of sunshine

turn into pools of gold at my feet. I drive a little Fisher Price car through the backyard and sing you

that song which grows into a sort of anthem to us. Did you know when a momma’s kit is born, they make

an instant bond with each other, forming their own nursery apart from other raccoons? When it’s just you and me we exchange stories and you tell me, “don’t grow up too fast, my sunshine.” I was always so happy

just to get through each day, especially after I almost didn’t—you, looking on so helplessly, when

I flatlined and less than the whisper of a beat remained. At home, I remember looking to the skies

and seeing hawks circling overhead. Survival is such an imperfect thing. One look away and there are

nothing but agonized screeches as the baby raccoon is carried away, momma heaving her little gray

body across the yard. Empty paws digging for something that will never return. In the rain, you’ll

hold out my hands and teach me how to bend my perspective—how to ensure the sorrow never

drowns me. In childhood, we don’t need to be taught to be clever, inquisitive beings. Did you know

a raccoon can open latches and twist door knobs with its paws? The wily masquerade of bandits holds dear that sense of touch, how their nerve endings become so much more heightened underwater. How

we can learn so much from them. At the end of the day, our hands can only ever hold so much.

Give me hand-holding, creating, taking and giving, destroying, signing, kissing the backs of. I

learned this all from you—in all the imaginary chips and soda exchanged, every last drop of love

squeezed like juice from the sun. I learned to find the tiniest light in a rainstorm thanks to you,

each droplet breaking into an iridescent masterpiece—almost a tangible thing. Yes, please

give me this. Let me leave paint-covered fingerprints wherever adventures take me. Don’t

worry because you know there will be plenty of time for that later and I will be able to take

with me what you gave from my first breath. Give me hopscotch and dancing free and my two skinned knees. Did you know a wild raccoon’s life span is only five years? Let me drink in the sunshine- soaked exploration, all the tender-hearted talks with the moon before childhood, so soon, slips away.

Erica Abbott (she/her) is a Philadelphia-based poet and writer whose work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in Anti-Heroin Chic, perhappened, Bandit Fiction, Brave Voices Magazine, and other journals. She is the author of Self-Portrait as a Sinking Ship (Toho 2020), her debut poetry chapbook. She volunteers for Button Poetry and Mad Poets Society. Follow her on Instagram @poetry_erica and on Twitter @erica_abbott.