Vagabond Mantra by Robin Baker

by Ashe Vagabond of the Vagabond Express

This is a beautiful poem written by fellow vagabond Robin Baker. She currently lives in Nepal and has her own website called I encourage you to check out her website, as she’s a fantastic writer with enchanting prose and intriguing tales from the road.

Here is just one of her lovely entries.

Happy birthday, Mother

Happy birthday, mother.
This year, in your honor, I
wander the desert gathering
our memories like clues,
hoping that somewhere
I’ll find you.

It reminds me of the drive we took
almost twelve years ago, an early celebration
of my birthday.
Just us three; you, Papa and me.
You were sober then for the first time in
who knows how long. We
left behind nights when
you would slouch over and rest your head on
my shoulder, weeping,
“I’m such a horrible mother”.
We left behind charges of neglect and
screaming fights and lies and
empty stomachs and went
West. Thank you
for that birthday gift, mother.

There is a photo of you
days after our return, leaning
on your bed, legs thin and bare,
shirt raised, displaying ribs
blue, purple, blackening.
Now I know you didn’t do it on purpose.
Did you?  Because the night before
my eleventh birthday you moved
your things and yourself into my room,
raged fitfully in my bed all night while
my friend and I lay scared on the floor.
Your body
writhed beneath the moonlight.
You moaned and shouted.
And when I asked you why
you said you hadn’t said anything.
Your stick-arm shot
up from the  bed and,
grasped the windowsill as you yelled,
“please I have to get up!”
I stood, clasped your right hand
helped raise you from the bed. Then
whoosh—you were
too weak to stand.

In the morning Papa wrapped you in a blanket and
carried your body, draped over his arms like
an empty sheet, down the stairs
to the car.
To the hospital. I was told to
send my friend home and search
for anything you may have taken.
I reported my findings over the phone:
the Tylenol PM you’d been taking nightly
for weeks, your prescription, Antabuse,
which was supposed to save you
from the stuff in the small bottle I found
in a box high on the shelf of my closet.

Later Papa returned and
brought me to the hospital where
I wasn’t allowed to see you.
“Too much”, they said. I stayed
all day in the hospital waiting room with
strangers, nurses, doctors saying
“happy birthday, Robin. Happy birthday”.

You were moved to a bigger hospital where
we waited for
something to happen, for
the stomach-ache to subside.
I’m still waiting.

Your parents arrived. Finally
allowed to see you. We walked
down a hall and turned the corner to the
last room on the left, through
glass doors and curtains to find light
leaking through the drawn blinds. An outline
of the Rockies painted the backdrop of
your body swollen in the hospital bed, of
your yellow skin and the pinks of your eyes
bulging out between your eyelids.
Steady beeps and the gasp of your
breathing machine beat out
a jumbled melody.
I held your hand beneath
the sheet while
they extracted your
blood and cleaned it and
put it back inside. I saw it spinning
around in tubes next to your bed.
They shuffled you over to
the chair where you sat with glassy eyes
and gurgled and smiled while I tried to
talk to you. “Mom, I love you.”
You couldn’t say the words but
your lips moved.

And then away my brother and I went
with your parents to Michigan
to wait to hear your voice after
a surgery they said you’d die without (if
it didn’t kill you).
They wanted to stitch up
your insides which I saw leaking
blood into a box at your bedside.
The phone rang while I painted your get-well-sign.
It wasn’t you.
I watched from inside as Grandpa folded Grandma
into his arms and she cried,
“my poor baby, my poor baby”.

That night we flew back over the mountains,
landed in the airport with the white roof where
we were told the machines would be
unplugged. It was time to say goodbye.
No lights.
It was crowded.
I’m shy.
I held your hand and whispered, “goodbye”.
I’m sorry I didn’t say more then.
Mother, I’m sorry we didn’t have
a better goodbye.

In the morning the phone rang.
“Hello? ” I asked.
“Mom is with God now”.

Alone, barefoot, I stepped outside
greeted the early morning sky, where
part of me still lives today.
I didn’t see you up there.
You used to say that we were
connected. “Stuck together like glue.”
So when you died
a part of me died too.

Now I know you didn’t do it on purpose.
Okay, maybe I don’t. Because
when you died
a part of me died too.
I want it back.
I look for it here in the desert, among the empty
streets, in my car, in my lonely
tent and I look
in the sand and under the rocks and in the sky
and I want even more for you to be
there too. Because it would be nice to say
happy birthday, Mom.
Happy birthday.



One Comment to “Vagabond Mantra by Robin Baker”

  1. What a touching story and so well written. I feel so sorry for the daughter but also for the mother. They both missed out on so much.

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