Salonen: Chandler’s poem connects with Gabriel’s loss

Salonen shares a poem by Tim Murphy that struck a chord this Mother's Day.

Roxane Salonen

FARGO — Gabriel is the name we’d chosen for him, “God is my strength,” not long before he slipped from our lives and into God’s hands. We would come to need that strength in the days following, and in every day since.

And each year at this time, since that May 2 day in 1999, we remember our dear one who went missing from miscarriage.

May has become for us a mingling of memories and milestones, of celebrating motherhood, recitals, ceremonies, graduations, and the birth of our middle child — the beautiful blessing that followed the previous year’s great loss. Mixed in with cake and merrymaking at month's end, a quiet memorial of our son precedes it, and now, too, a grateful marking of their father’s successful open-heart surgery on May 2, 2019.

It’s a lot to hold, and this year, another connection to this melding of life and loss came to me while interviewing Canadian poet Catherine Chandler, who edited the final collection of prairie wordsmith Timothy Murphy’s works, “Last Poems,” to release next month, posthumously, by the North Dakota State University Press.

During an interview with Chandler, she mentioned a certain poem of hers that had impressed Murphy and his literary partner and friend, Alan Sullivan, early in their convergence. It was a fictional account, she said, of a mother struggling through a Mother’s Day moment.


“Her husband, instead of bringing her roses, presents her with a mother’s ring containing a stone for each of her children,” Chandler explained. “Her husband can’t understand why she’s not overly thrilled with this beautiful ring.” The poem then shifts into the voice of a child — the one she aborted, in a past time, beyond her husband’s knowing.

It was this poem, Chandler said, that drew Murphy and Sullivan into a deeper friendship with her; a relationship that ultimately led to Murphy trusting his final poems to her safekeeping.

Though I’ve not experienced abortion, our miscarriage has helped me understand the ache so many post-abortive mothers feel at this time of year. After talking to Chandler, I requested she send me the poem she’d described. It seemed fitting to be shared here, too, as published in Able Muse (© Timothy Murphy, 2010, with permission of the “Able Muse: A Review of Poetry, Prose & Art”).

Mother’s Day

On Sunday evening after the party ends

and family have gone, you ache to say

how you can’t bear this gathering each May.

Your thoughtful husband usually sends

a rose bouquet, but changed his mind this year:


a special gift, it makes your finger shine

with emerald and ruby. Too much wine,

he banters as he wipes away your tear.

But you and I know, Mother, what he can’t –

your April foolishness; how bit by bit

they snipped me out of you, “took care of it”,

how through the years I’ve been your confidante,


the reason for this night’s unraveling –

the garnet missing from the mother’s ring.

Salonen, a wife and mother of five, works as a freelance writer and speaker in Fargo. Email her at, and find more of her work at Peace Garden Passage,

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