Poetry: While I Was Gone


while i was gone


By Lory Whitehead


my son was nine when he hit
the grand slam that won the game.
i wish i could have seen it
but i was away that summer.
do you still have that baseball?
i imagine what must have happened,
and how i would have screamed
if i had been there.


my husband went hiking with the dog
the first time i was sent overseas.
it was a long, lonely separation
for both of us. i wish i could have
that time back again
and undo some of the sadness.
did we ever recover from that period?
can i excuse my transgressions?


coming back from germany,
i was out of reach.
i never got the call about the cancer
that took your breast that christmas.
dearest friend, you fought so hard
and died too soon. if only
i could have been there
to comfort you.


i never told him i phoned his doctor
on my way to korea. he confirmed
the diagnosis you had denied.
by that time you really didn’t know
what was happening,
did you, dad? at least
you always remembered me
when i came to visit.


she had a stroke just before
i went to kosovo. i stayed with her
as long as i could. while i was gone
she sent me a card, signed with such effort.
you never knew how it hurt me, mom,
to see that trembling signature and to visualize
your suffering. my struggles in remote lands
were nothing to what you endured.


and so it went. military service took me across
the seas and around the u.s. i tried to balance
duty to country with my roles as wife and mother,
daughter and friend. everyone lost as a result.
yet somehow, wherever i wandered, amidst
fear and drudgery, loneliness and pain,
you all were on my mind. and in my heart,
i was there for you.

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker