Girl with Back Turned Hands Reaching for Her

Flashback Friday Featuring Kelli Russell Agodon, "If You Awake After I've Gone" Issue 292.2

If You Awake After I've Gone

I cleaned the glass to the woodstove
with wet newspaper. I didn't mean to
use the comics or the front page,
but you didn't miss much—

Summary: The world’s problems
are still the same and Sally hit Linus
in the head with her lunchbox
because he threw away her valentine.

A salmon laid her eggs this morning.
She turned sideways and glistened
silver. If the big white rock was Nevada,
she was Seattle. Yesterday, she was Oregon.

I am still searching for my book about moths.
If you find it, mail it to me. I’m pressing
clovers beneath the front cover.
On the table is a hat I found. Yours?

There are deer tracks by the edge
of the river where the elk bones rest.
Visit them before the rain erases the red soil.
I have shut the gate, but did not lock it.


My daughter was thirteen months when the September 11th terrorist attacks occurred. As a new mother and in charge of this new life, I believed hazards were everywhere. My imagination was already set to "worst case scenario," but seeing the planes hit the towers was something I had never even considered--how could I plan or be ready for something like that?

ljhvcutcuycoltuLittle by little, I became more involved with being a mother--an anxious mother--and I found myself losing the writer side of myself. I was becoming more and more fearful of life and that something disastrous would happen to my family. My life was passing, my daughter was growing, and I was becoming afraid to leave the house without her. I knew there was a problem.

Laying in bed one night tired of being fearful, I asked myself, What would be the scariest thing I could do that would be good for me? My answer? Spend a week in the middle of a forest away from my family writing. The next morning I applied to the Soapstone Writing Residency (and the fearful part of me that knew I'd be accepted.)

And I was. Several months later, I packed a small suitcase and drove to the Oregon rainforest by myself one Sunday in February when my daughter was 2 1/2. I was sure something terrible would happen to her or to me, but apparently, I had enough faith that this was my overactive imagination to keep driving and arrive at the residency. My new writing studio was in the middle of nowhere, which I would share with another woman writer for one week.

For the first two days, I cried and called home on the landline. I went for walks and avoided writing. On Wednesday, I awoke to find a kingfisher on a branch outside my loft bedroom window. I knew my time was half over and I needed to write.

For the next four days I wrote poem after poem inspired by rainforest, the moss, the clovers. I kept my room warm with a woodstove and made meals only for myself. I read Given Sugar, Given Salt by Jane Hirshfield while sitting on the futon in front of the fire eating oatmeal. I forgot all the terrible things in the world as I was completely cut off from the internet and a cellphone.

On the last day, I went for one last walk and came back and wrote this poem. While much of it is true and about what I saw on my last day at Soapstone, for me, the last line for me was both the most poignant and metaphoric. I knew I was leaving this space and time for writing back to return back to my life as a mom, but the gate was open and unlocked for me to return anytime.

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Kelli Russell Agodon: is a poet, writer, and editor from the Northwest. Her recent books include Hourglass Museum (White Pine Press, 2014), which was a finalist for the Julie Suk Poetry Prize and The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts for Your Writing Practice, which she coauthored with Martha Silano. Her other books include Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room (Winner of ForeWord Magazine's Book of the Year in Poetry and a Finalist for the Washington State Book Prize), Small Knots, Geography, and Fire On Her Tongue: An Anthology of Contemporary Women's Poetry which she edited with Annette Spaulding-Convy.

Kelli is the co-founder of Two Sylvias Press and the Co-Director of Poets on the Coast: A Weekend Writing Retreat for Women. She lives in a small seaside town where when not writing or editing, she is an avid mountain biker, paddleboarder, and hiker.

Illustrations by; Jackie O'Brien. "I always start a challenge with a pencil and a piece of paper. Mapping out a thought or process and seeing what's about to be created. Let me create for you!" Available for freelance design and illustration endeavors.