an open letter to people about tomorrow

memaw’s service/funeral/whatever is tomorrow.

currently, memaw’s in an urn or something of the sort at my mother’s house.

i don’t want to go to the service.

now, before you get all judgy, lemme explain;

then it’s over.

for my entire life,

i have known my memaw and pepaw neil.  they have loved me and always existed and been real.

and then pepaw died, and it was brutal hard, and i still cry every time i think of him,

but there was still memaw.

and i got to visit her on fridays.

i got to be a tall handsome man who spent time with her and i got to feel a little like pepaw.

truly, there is no higher honor

than to do or be anything like

lloyd houston neil

as the son of a mother who lost her mother,

i have been on the periphery of death.

i still got to go home and have my parents

and know i can still hear my mom accidentally use an overly-assertive tone before self-correcting

and my father’s snapping, breathy laugh when he talks about my daughter.

i cried the hardest

during all of this

flipping through a southern living in

the sun room of hospice care

when i realized one day

i will lose my mother, too.

i favor muted pastels (is that redundant?)

and lots of natural lighting

i hated the color palettes of the rooms

that issue of southern living labeled as


* * *

so, tomorrow,

i will wake, eat enough food to function

no easy task with my metabolism

get the haircut i promised my mother i would get

at thirty three, we know by now to follow through on those promises

and pick out the shirt and tie i will wear as i read aloud a poem i wrote

and say goodbye (again) to memaw.

i guess that’s all.


joel houston

for my mother

curled up in a chair and facing away from me

today my mother said

i’m paraphrasing, i hope that’s ok

‘i always thought i would outshine my mother.’

to be fair, my mother, the speaking mother in this piece

has a hell of a competitive streak

if you know her you’re nodding


and she said, then, my mother,

‘and i realized it doesn’t matter.’

i was looking at wrens and a bluejay through the living room window

standing at my mother’s shoulder

and i did not say this but i thought it,

‘i am glad to know this now,

that it does not matter to outshine

my mother, because

it will be impossible.’

to my mother,

i love you, i am sorry for our loss,

memaw is a present tense, just as lloyd never left me.

i will grieve more privately

and then write about it for all the world

but i assure you, i am sad

and i am glad that your mother was yours

and that you are mine.


a notice to my homeowners association

i’m not sure if the two chairs in the front yard of

my home on liverpool lane are against

the hedingham covenant and bylaws

of what is or is not acceptable

you see i moved them to the front yard

from my back porch a few wednesdays ago

because my memaw was going to come over

and we were going to sit together in the shade

but due to an unfortunate circumstance

i don’t think my memaw will be coming over

again, ever

so i’m reluctant to move the chairs back

because i’m sentimental and

it’s kind of nice seeing the two chairs together

the hope of two and togetherness

and a reminder to my memaw

that she is welcome here, always.

because my memaw is feeling better

Hope cracked the closet door
the hinge squeaks this time of year due to the humidity
and eased it open
she stood facing dress after dress
eyes washing over fabric and color and style
she slid out of the somber black number
she’d worn over the weekend
stepped free from pooled polyester at her ankles
pulled a bright jumper
patterned orange and blue
from the rack and onto her frame
adjusted the straps in her full-length mirror
on the closet door
it was here when she moved in
and smiled at her reflection.