Posts Tagged ‘death’

It is possible to be with someone who is gone.
—Linda Gregg, “The Presence in Absence”

I have no phone receiver to connect me to the other side,
but every day I speak to my beloveds through candle flame.
Every night, I speak to them through the dark before sleep.
I speak to them in the car when I am alone.
I speak to them when I walk beneath stars,
when I walk in the woods, when I walk in the rain.
It is possible to be with someone who is gone.
It is possible to feel what cannot be seen,
to sense what cannot be heard,
to be held by what cannot be touched.
It is possible for love to grow after death.
If there is a secret, it is, perhaps, openness.
The way air lets light move through.
The way a window invites in the scent of grass.
The way sand receives the ocean,
then, rearranged, lets it pass.

This poem was published in ONE ART: A Journal of Poetry on 9/11/22

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Relative Key

I paid extra for the bell
with a beautiful sound,
knowing we would ring it
one hundred and eight times
on the anniversary of your death.
I wanted it to be beautiful.
I wanted to play a sound
that would reach
to wherever you are
and offer you peace.
There are bells that ring
danger or failure or shame,
bells that clang with dissonance,
bells that toll only melancholy.
I have heard those bells.
But for you, my boy,
the bell we rang for you
pealed with a brilliant, shining ring,
a rousing chiming,
a surprising harmony
that opened the evening
with new light,
a ringing that rhymed
with new colors I’ve found in my heart—
the shimmering blue of enduring hope,
the glimmering gold of companioning.
I could still hear the blue
and the resonant gold
long after the bell stopped ringing.

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The Unheard

I do not hear his shrieks of laughter
escaping from his room.
I don’t hear his hand beating time against the table.
I don’t hear the luff of his breath
as I stand beside him while he sleeps.
I don’t hear the fear in his voice
when he begs me, please mom, please.

I hear the rain on the rooftop,
a morse code of love I don’t know how to translate
except in shades of green.
I hear cars on the highway,
and remember life is moving.
I hear the whir of the hummingbird wings
and the black notes of crows
and the silence where the boy
no longer grows.

If you ask me do I hear his voice,
I would tell you no.
But that is only partly true.
I do not hear his voice in words.
I don’t hear it the way perhaps I wish to.
But I hear him inside me, not a whisper,
but a voice that sounds startlingly like my own,
a voice that sounds like rain on the roof,
like cars on the highway, like hummingbird wings,
like crows, like the silence
where my love for the boy still grows.

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Because I can, I carry the box with your ashes
around the house as if you’re a baby on my hip.
I point out things and explain them,
just as I did when you were young and alive.
There, I say, there is where you practiced piano.
Here, I say, is where you sat at the counter
and wept when I told you the story
of Cinderella. And here is the wall
where we hung all your artwork.
And here is the room where you slept.
Here’s the plant you gave me last year—
see how it’s doubled in size?
And here’s the new couch in the place
where the old couch once was,
the one on which we snuggled each morning
before school. I walk the floor as I did
when you were young and fussy and needed
touch and movement to calm you.
Now I am the one who is calmed by the walking.
So familiar, these steps around the kitchen island,
these steps around the table.
So familiar, this weight on my hip.
Soon we will place this small wooden box
in the ground, so while I still can, I carry you.
Oh sweetheart, how is it I’m thriving amidst this gravity?
It is, I am sure, because I, too, am deeply companioned,
carried from moment to moment, from space to space.
And though I don’t hear it, there is perhaps a voice
that says to me, Here is where you lit
a candle every day. Here is where you practiced
to love in new ways. And here is where
you did not judge yourself as you wept.
Here is the place where you did nothing but breathe.
And here is where you thought of all the people
who have carried you.
And here is where you said thank you.

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The day you died, I remember thinking
how much it felt like your birth.
All the blood. The way they swaddled
your body in white. How I sang to you
the same song I sang on your first day:
a howl of pain,
then a chant that called on the pure light
within you to guide your way on.
Most of all, I remember thinking
I didn’t know how to live in this altered world—
the only way to learn was by doing.
Just as a new mother learns minute by minute
how to nurse, to comfort, to sleep,
how to change her life to meet the new child,
so this old mother learned minute by minute
to let go, to grieve, to breathe, to sleep,
how to change my life to meet a day without you.
It’s been forty-one weeks since you died.
It takes forty weeks to form a child.
It feels as if I’ve been pregnant
with the loss of you. So embodied.
So aware of great change. Is it strange
to feel I’ve been birthed by your death?
Just like when you were born, I’ve been
transformed by an overwhelming love.
It is not at all the same. It’s the same.
I am no longer the woman I was.

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For the Living

He has given you his love light to carry.
            —Wendy Videlock

It is the work of the living
to grieve the dead.
It is our work to wake each day,
to live into the world that is.
It is our work to weep,
and it is our work to be healed.
Some part of us knows
not only the absence of our beloveds,
but also their presence,
how they continue to teach us,
how they invite us to grow.
It is our work to be softened by loss,
to be undone, destroyed, remade.
Wounded, we recoil,
and it is our work to notice how,
like crushed and trampled grass,
we spring back.
It is our work to meet death again
and again and again,
and though it aches to be open,
it is our work to be opened,
to live into the opening
until we know ourselves
as blossoms nourished from within
by the radiance of the ones
who are no longer physically here.
They have given us their love light to carry.
It is our work to be in service to that light.

*For those of you who have been with the blog a long time, you may recall this poem in an earlier form from about five years ago … The first few line are the same, and the “it is our work” is the same, but it’s been fundamentally changed as my understanding of “our work” is ever evolving. I read it today at the memorial of a beloved member of the Telluride community, Clint Viebrock. For any who have loved someone and lost them, this poem is for you.

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What is the reason
you’re canceling his membership?
asked the AAA representative.
Because he’s dead,
I said, my voice flat
as the stiff plastic card
with my son’s name on it.
I’m so sorry,
said the woman.
Thank you, I said,
determined to stay composed.
But I found myself at a threshold
with one foot in the past
when my son had just learned
to drive and was proud
to be a safe driver,
and one foot in the present
reciting the numbers
of my credit card
to pay for the membership
that no longer includes him.
Around the fifth number,
grief was a lug wrench
lodged in my throat
and I could not speak
through my tears.
I’m sorry, I said.
Take your time, she said.
It took me three tries
to get through the digits.
The number had become his smile
as he polished the headlamps.
The number had become his pride
in driving me to the store.
It was his hands on the wheel,
his glee in the curves, his finger
tapping the dash in time
to a cheeky country song.
How is it a memory so beautiful
can crumple me like a fender
hit by a semi at the same time
it floods me with joy?
God, he was happy
when he was driving,
his foot on the accelerator,
and all that road waiting
to be explored.

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inspired by Leigh Gage

I try to make it beautiful—a spacious place
with room enough for blue birds to migrate,
where whole herds of elk can bed down,
and with fields so vast they hold
every memory of you—
not just the warmhearted memories,
but the hardest ones, too.
Those I hold up to the soft light of morning,
grateful for room enough to walk around them
and give them the space they need.
Those I hold up to the sharp light of noon
and say, yes, yes, it was like that.
I fill my heart with the scent of apple pie and cinnamon,
lemon zest and the river in spring.
Sometimes, when I am most vulnerable,
there’s a floral fragrance of forgiving.
I try to keep my heart soft. I try not to clench,
not to harden, not to set. I try to create
a place where you can rest, where you can stay.
It is full of blank books, each one waiting to be filled
with stories of how it is with you living here in my heart,
this place where you have always lived,
this place even death cannot take away—
this place death has made more holy, more real.

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I want it to be said
I was the kind of woman
who would weep in the concert hall,
undone by the beauty of song.
I want to be remembered
as a creature who loved
spring grass in her bare toes
and dirt in her hands
and the sun on her skin,
and I want everyone I love
to know for a fact
I chose them as my family.
I hope they will say
I loved the blank page
more than any word on it,
though I thrilled for words, too—
It was weird, they might say,
how she would sit there for hours,
days, years, wondering
about the next true thing,
letting the blank rub off on her.
She was so happy, eyes closed,
fingers hovering above the keyboard,
leaning into that moment
when anything is possible,
that edge where she learned
she had wings.

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After skate skiing on groomed track for months,
following only the preset path, today
I wake early enough to ski on the hardened crust
of spring morning snow. Suddenly,
the whole valley is a playground. And
it’s freedom. Freedom to move in any
direction. Freedom to loop or climb or follow
the river. Freedom that seeps into breath, into smile,
into my understanding of what it means to be alive.
And the whole time I skate and pole
and propel myself over snow
I hear an inner refrain from Romans:
And death shall have no dominion.
Not a still small voice, but a resonant boom.
And I, so alive in this sweet slip of time,
know that though my son has died
and my father has died, here I am,
carrying their love, and alive. Alive!
Alive through the winter.
Alive though I grieve. Alive. Alive as I skate
through willows and aspen and wide open white.
Lungs burning, legs striding, heart beating
hard in my chest. I know myself as breath
and return to the wholeness that never left.
Skating across the frozen world, the sparkling crust,
I live into this life that so wants to be lived,
this life that asks everything, everything of us.

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