Renée E. D’Aoust

[Note to reader: The four music tracks linked in this essay may be played while reading by clicking here and allowing the playlist to play them sequentially in the window that opens up. Alternatively you may select them individually at the appropriate link.]

Gratitude is my Terrain: Maybe

< 3 Lemon Ginger Yogi Tea because it mitigates chemo nausea and comes with words:

“May this day bring you peace, tranquility, and harmony.”

< 3 When my mom dies, I want to phone my mom to talk to her about it, and I can’t.

Joan Baez, Green Green Grass of Home.

< 3 Live my list. Live my life.

Sample of my daily list:

○    Do Chris Pei QiGong
○    Post review of Valerie Fioravanti’s book Garbage Night at the Opera
○    Faccio i compiti per il corso d’Italiano
○    Walkies
○    Finish Rain Taxi book review of Sarah Einstein’s Mot
○    Write
○    Grade papers from ENGL 101 & 102
○    Buy plane tkt MXP > AMS > MSP > GEG
○    Drink 2 cups of coffee max
○    Cuddle Tootsie

< 3 Practice makes living possible, even delightful.

< 3 “Why did you marry me?” I ask.

“Because you have a pink nose.”
Eros Ramazzotti and Tina Turner, Cosas de la Vida.

< 3 Dachshund Tootsie snores.

Pause / paws.

< 3 Lavender.   Wild rose.        Lilac.   Plumeria.         Lemon.

< 3 The year after my brother dies collapses into the year after my mother dies collapses into French lilacs and Paradise lilies and brave symmetry.

< 3 When my mom dies, I am in Frauenfeld, which means “field of the women.”

The early afternoon my mom passes away in Idaho, it is late evening in Switzerland. I am in a hotel forty minutes away from the Zurich airport because all the reasonably priced hotels near the airport were sold out. The unreasonably priced hotels cost 400CHF/night. Our hotel costs 180CHF.

I will fly early the next morning across the pond to America. To see my mom. To make it in time. To see my mom, gone. My father phones (I am suddenly beyond cold), and says, “She’s gone, Buzzy.”

I know this bone cold too well. From experience, I know that hot water balms this existential hypothermia. No hot water. The hotel in Frauenfeld has run out of hot water.

I shake so badly, my teeth fall out, my hair falls out, my husband collects my teeth, my hair, and puts them back. My husband and I crawl into bed fully dressed, under the down comforters. He holds me as I sob.

I smell the fragrance of my mother. Lavender. French lavender.

“I’ve never been to Paris,” says my mom.

< 3 There is a black lab in the breakfast room at the hotel in Frauenfeld. He looks like Sierus, our family dog, who is immortalized in Mom’s book Long Shadows. I cry.

< 3 Dachshund Tootsie wagging. Dachshund Tootsie hiking.

Tootsie flipping on her back. Cuddling. Burrowing.
Tootsie, lowdown, long and short. Fur on my pillow.
Tootsie, our Tube of Fur.

< 3 When my mother moved to northern Idaho, she had published three books, had countless unpublished books, and many awards. The local poet, who was a friend of the mayor in Hope, Idaho, said, “We’ll have to decide if you’re a good enough writer.” Good enough as an aesthetic.

< 3 If you’re beyond Hope (ID), keep going. Eventually, you’ll get to Paradise (MT).

< 3 Passeggiata di Hermann Hesse in Montagnola, Switzerland.

Jean-Jacques Goldman, On ira.

< 3 “Life is learning, honey. You take it all too seriously.”—my mom.

< 3 The Delta agent asks me why I am traveling to America.

“My mom died yesterday.”

< 3 October is breast cancer awareness month, and Delta sells pink jellybeans to raise money. “It’s a small bag; are you sure you want them?” asks the Delta agent. She wears a pink uniform. I wear a black T-shirt with a huge pink ribbon on the front.

< 3 I eat eight pink jellybeans. The whole bag. Middle seat from AMS > SEA.

< 3 The golden hue of northern Idaho larch in late fall.

< 3 “You make too big a deal of it. Life is just a blip, sweetheart. One moment, I’ll be here. Next moment, I’ll be gone.”—my mom.

I walk into my parent’s house, and I wander around like a dog, sniffing my mother’s lavender scent, crawling onto and off of her bed. My brother and father watch me walking around, sitting down, standing up, and know.

< 3 The one friend who does not ask, “How did your brother die?” but who says, “I am deeply sorry for your profound loss” and then takes my hand. Holds it.

The one friend who remembers the date my mom died. Thank you.

The relatives on my mother’s side who don’t talk or write to me for the entire first year after my mom dies and never acknowledge the obituary I wrote for my mom.

Grievances are grudges are toxic flowers.

< 3 “You expect too much of people, darling. Each person is doing her best.”—my mom.

< 3 The one cousin who sends me a snail mail sympathy card. Thank you.

< 3 The woman I am is in my imagination, still.

Al Bano & Romina Power, Felicità.

< 3 The predictable pause after I am asked about my siblings.

“My older brother Tony is a commercial fisherman in Southeast Alaska and a marine tech in Antarctica, the Arctic, Alaska, and the Bahamas.

My other older brother Ian died.”

< 3 Fuck the pause. Hard.

I no longer fill pauses.

I fill bottles with water instead.

Go hiking.

< 3 Tootsie says:

Dream big, live real.

Live real, be kind.

Long live walkies.

Wag. Wag again. Wag better.

Bark it. Wag it. Be it.

< 3 “When you get down on yourself, you are a real bummer to be around. It’s exhausting.”—my mom.

< 3 Why don’t my mother’s friends send me notes?

I send them notes. Poetry books.

I dig women writers. My own VIDA library.

A few of the poetry books I send to my mom’s friends:

Remica L. Bingham, What We Ask of Flesh

Moira MacDougall, Bone Dream

Susan Blackwell Ramsey, A Mind Like This

Diane Raptosh, American Amnesiac

R. Flowers Rivera, Heathen

< 3 “Would you rather I clean the house or write a poem? A poem lasts.”—my mom.

I want to write poems instead of notes, but each ending is a death,
and I cannot handle the finish of words.

< 3 From grievances to grace one dog at a time.

< 3 The ever-present music in the Alps from cowbells on Swiss cows. The goats and sheep wear bells, too. I prefer goat music.

< 3 Latte macchiato.      Ciambella.      Pistacchio (gelato).

The chapel on top of Monte Sassalto in Caslano.

Pink ribbons.    Dark chocolate.

< 3 Slash pile fires in Idaho.

The gurgling creek in Antelope Valley.

My big brother.        My mom.        My life.

Renée E. D’Aoust’s Body of a Dancer (Etruscan Press) was a Foreword Reviews “Book of the Year” finalist. Forthcoming and recent publications include Brevity, Essay Daily, Los Angeles Review of Books, Ragazine, and Trestle Creek Review. D’Aoust lives in southern Switzerland and teaches online at North Idaho College and Casper College. She is an AWP “Writer to Writer” mentor and the Managing Editor of Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies. Since moving to Europe, she has embraced the eating of sweets, according to the season. In winter, she eats torrone; at Christmas, she likes panettone; in spring and fall, she eats “Chocolat Stella” dark chocolate bars (sometimes with pomegranate or orange); in summer, she obsesses over gelato (favorite flavor—pistacchio). She eats chocolate croissants all year round and halva on occasion. Please follow her at @idahobuzzy and visit

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