Sandra Kohler

The Size of Loneliness


We are mapping the beds, their spring,

their early summer bloom, in this garden

which will be our last, my husband and I.


The first blossom on the violet clematis is open,

abloom. Two yellow portulaca. A trio of birds

fly through the garden, sudden, low, too rapid


for me to see what they are. I’m struggling, sad.

My husband looks old suddenly: his stoop, his

slow walk. Spring comes this year with fierce


cold, unrelenting, imperative winds. The crocus

push up, shivering. A friend writes that once,

her husband gravely ill, she felt “a vast loneliness.”


I am gauging the size of loneliness. Some times

I feel small pockets of it, at others I can hold it

in my hand, a pebble. I’ve found it in the heart


of a succulent piece of fruit, a pit, absolute:

it is the stone at the center of my rich days.

In the garden, anemone around the willow


tree are starting to open. The hellebore bloom,

downward-facing. Daffodils up all over, tulips,

lilies. My happiness is overwhelmingly bound


up with my husband, his presence. Together

we map all the beds, sketch in the spring bulbs

on his template. Purple clematis blossoming,


now the rosy one in the driveway, its blooms

gems, smaller than I’d imagined their being.

In a dream, my marriage is breaking up, my


husband’s forgotten something important

to me, a birthday, anniversary? The sheaf

of red roses I’m holding begins to shed petals.


Will a morning ever come when waking up

at daybreak I don’t immediately check to

make sure my husband is breathing, alive,


a morning when he’s here with me in bed and

that’s not what I first think of? I’d settle for

as many mornings as I can imagine of checking


as long as he’s still here, still with me. Now

that the beds are mapped, we plan where to

plant bulbs this fall, daffodils, lilies, small


tulips, the wild ones I love. The loneliness

I am feeling this morning is the size of

those bulbs, round smooth orbs I could

hold in my fist, each full of the future.

Sandra Kohler is the author of three collections of poems, Improbable Music (Word Press, 2011), The Ceremonies of Longing, winner of the 2002 Associated Writing Programs Award Series in Poetry (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003), and The Country of Women (Calyx, 1995). Her poems have appeared in The New Republic, Beloit Poetry Journal, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere over the past 35 years. Born in New York City in 1940, Kohler attended public schools there, Mount Holyoke College (A.B., 1961) and Bryn Mawr College (A.M., 1966 and Ph.D., 1971). She has taught literature and writing in venues ranging from elementary school to university. A resident of Pennsylvania for most of her adult life, she moved to Boston in 2007.



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