How to be … a daughter: to remember, to not forget, to recollect and re-collect, to praise and conjure. To endure, to love, to reunite beside the gorge.


Since my mom died in 2009, I’ve spent a lot of time remembering her. The following is a collection of essays, videos, poems, recollections I’ve done since 2009. As I find more, I’ll add them here.

An essay: Living and Grieving Beside Judith




from An urgent need to document my process:

Creating a space for making visible my thinking/writing/feeling/engaging process is a way for me to leave a trace of who I am or have been. This need to have/leave a trace has become increasingly important since my mom died in 2009. It’s no accident that I started writing in my own blog just as my mom was in the final stage of dying from pancreatic cancer. Part of this desire to leave my own trace is a response to my own desperate need for more traces of my mom and what she thought and felt about the world as she was dying and after she died. As I hungrily searched for more of her own reflections on life, teaching, and raising a troublemaking kid like me, I thought about how my kids (or their kids) might want some of my reflections after I’ve died.

from March 5, 2020 on RUN!:

3.25 miles
ford bridge and back
37 degrees
sleet/rain mix

Today my mom would have turned 78. She died over ten years ago in 2009. When I headed out for my run, I wasn’t thinking about this fact or wishing she were on the run with me. I was thinking about how beautiful the gorge looked in the gloomy gray–so calm and wet and exposed. Even though it was windy and drizzling, I knew I needed to be out there beside it. Then, after I finished, feeling flushed and happy, I remembered that it was her birthday and I began to believe that getting me outside to the gorge, able to see all the way to other side of the river, to smell the smoke from some distant fire, to absorb the brown tree trunks and blue water, to breathe in the coming spring, to feel joy and delight and astonishment at the beauty surrounding me, was a present from her. She taught me to love being outside, to notice and wonder about the natural world, and to make life sacred through honoring daily routines.

Other March 5 entries:

from October 19, 2021:

A few days ago, I discovered Annie Dillard’s chapter in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek: Seeing. I have read some (all?) of this book years ago, but I didn’t remember there was a chapter titled “Seeing”! Excellent. I read it online, from a pdf. Yesterday, I found my copy, which isn’t really my copy but my dead mom’s copy that I inherited or, more likely, borrowed years before she died in 2009, on the bookshelf next to my desk. I opened it up and discovered a wonderful surprise: a sticker in the front that reads, “This book is the treasured possession of Judy Puotinen.” My mom has signed her name so neatly and clearly. I could stare for a long time at the pretty loops of her J and y; the confident backward slant of her P, almost looking like a person puffing out their chest; the t that looms larger than the other letters and stands like a cross (she was not very religious, or as she might have put it, “I’m spiritual, not religious”); and the errant dot of an i, charging ahead to dot the n instead. This signature, too, is a trace, a haunting, more than a memory. It is her, still speaking 12 years after she died. Such a powerful voice in that signature! For a few years after her death, I would encounter her signature on a box in the basement of my first house in Minneapolis. I had a lot of these boxes; they were care packages she sent almost once a month: a new tablecloth, a candle, a cookbook, baby clothes for my kids. It was difficult to see that signature then. It reminded me of how much I had lost: not just her but the care and love she constantly gave me and would have given to my kids. But now, to stumble across her in this way is wonderful. To spend time with her, delighting in remembering how much she loved books and how carefully and beautifully she wrote her name.


My mom has appeared in many of my poems. Here are the latest, from a longer poem tentatively titled, Haunts:

from Haunts/ Sara Lynne Puotinen

Before girl,
a ghost

carried deep

Scrambled code
in back

of each eye
that starts

a shift sharp
to soft

so slow it
will go


lines dissolve

blur ground un
moors and

a gorge is
carved out

between girl
and world.

Before ghost,
a girl

sturdy sure-

mother still

Able to shake
worlds with

her body
take worlds

with one glance —

forests stint
less stars —

hers in an

Before girl
or ghost,

gorge. Formed when

wore down stone
on its

way up a

Four feet of
land lost

every year

with open
space. This

gap between
sides does

not divide
but holds


daughter here
there now

then girl ghost
and makes

the place where
a trail

can be traced.

Same route on

rubbing grass
bare to

dirt, dust. I

hanging out

nowhere else
to be

longing for

with the past
feet that

stepped down on
this spot

wanting to
add lines

to a poem

before my

was born and
grew up

just four miles
east as

the crow flies

the river

my grandpa
helped build

the stone walls
that still

stand nearby

this land was

to start two

I want her
with me

on my run
and she

is almost
but not

quite and not

I’ve heard her
call my

name through a

horn the soft

rising from
the gorge

felt her tap
in the

tassel’s tug
as wind

knocked against
my cap

seen the flash
of her

face in a

greeting, the
blur of

her body
in a

shadow’s cast.

summer I
wait for

winter, the
leaves to

leave, the veil
to lift,

the other
side to

be revealed.
I try

to squint hard

to see her

home just four
miles east

and wonder
does her

ghost ever

to haunt it?

I try to
sync up

my steps to
the geese

as they keep
in tight

with their

frequent honks,
but their

reckless beats

and my feet

follow. Then
it’s slow

drips down stone
my breath

can’t match, taps
from a

knock that

outpace my
heart. I

settle in-
to a

rhythm: 3
then 2.

First counting
foot strikes,

then chanting
small prayers.

I beat out

until what’s
left are

then sounds,

then something
new or

old returned.
Let me

learn to dwell
in these

rhythms. Let
my feet

do more than
move me

forward. Let
my beats

bring me back
to the

other side.