The mother who packs her daughter’s valise,
tucks a Bible between the muslin layers.
The father who shoes horses and fixes
clocks and other intricate things that break
saves coins in their largest preserving jar
’til the day for which they have waited comes.
See Mother wash and oil and comb and braid
Daughter’s thick brown hair for the very last time.

Does “good-bye” mean we hope or mean we weep?
Does it mean remember all you know, or
come back as soon as you can, or do not?
Does it mean go now, or I do not know?
Good-bye, Daughter, says Mother. She watches
the horse and buggy ’til it fades from view.

“Goodbye” from Crave Radiance by Elizabeth Alexander. Copyright © 2012 by Elizabeth Alexander. Used with permission of the poet.

Listen to Elizabeth Alexander’s On Being interview, “Words That Shimmer.