Robert Winner - Learning To Mourn

I'm an inexperienced mourner
I don't even know how to begin
to cry out like that old man
wailing in the next hospital room—
oi vay, oi vay—his two sounds
beating against the wall.

He makes me squirm
but I get his message better than my own.
How can I free myself like him?
How can I know my place as he does,
know how little I am?
How can I mourn, the cheep of a trapped bird
crying out violent sorrow?

Old man, teach me.
Help me reach the bowels of my cry
and bring it up, coarse, rasping.
Teach me to be disgusting.
Help me to exile myself from all
the populations of eyes and ears.
Teach me to live in that country
where no one else is, where I can
bash to pieces my good breeding,
my priests and pillars
—no illusions, the self wiped out,
unable to see or hear or understand.

Old man—lying in your shit—
you've let the angel of death from your mouth.
One minute of your unforgiving protest
is like true song: reckless, fatal singing,
song that is not victorious, not even consoling,
merely a sound you have to make.

source: The Poetry Foundation

Thank You

The most important part of 2013 was my decision to dedicate myself to this blog. I've written here through the darkest times, and the most beautiful, but what remains constant is my desire--no, my need--to make a connection with the world. I don't know who reads this blog. I don't know who will stumble on it in the future. I don't know what my words will ever mean to someone else, but I can only hope that I make some small impact. That's all I ask for. If I can do that, then my life has a purpose and a meaning.

So I want to thank everyone who reads my words, who gives me support and kindness. I believe creating this blog is one of the most therapeutic and life-saving things I have ever done. It's shown me that I am not alone. It's taught me that all of us are grappling with loss in our own personal and unique ways. It's given me an outlet for emotions that would destroy me if not channeled into writing. It's introduced me to wonderful people. Ultimately,  it's given me back my father; being able to write about him on a regular basis makes him more present in my life. 

I don't know what 2014 will bring, but I do know that I will continue to write about loss and grief and, no matter the ups and downs, I will keep surviving.

I wish all of you a very happy New Year.

"An Unbearable Sense of Loss:" On Banana Yoshimoto's Kitchen and "Moonlight Shadow"

I'm writing this in the midst of depression. I am writing this four days after Christmas and three days after I laid in bed crying because I'll never see my father again. I'm writing this in the dark on a computer; my head is throbbing and my throat is sore because I'm sick. I'm writing this beside a window covered in pink lights. Outside, the rain falls.

I don't know how to start this review, and I probably won't know how to end it. I'll ramble and make very little sense. I'll fail to convey the importance of this book, but I'm going to try anyways because I'm sick and grief-stricken and depressed, and writing about a book that is meaningful to me might liberate me somehow, or comfort me at least a little. So here we go.

Kitchen is composed of two parts: an eponymous novella and a short story called “Moonlight Shadow”. So, I'll review each separately and then weave them together in the end. Needless to say, this review will contain spoilers. So please do NOT read if that bothers you.


Mikage Sakurai is a young woman living in Tokyo, Japan who has lost everyone in her life. Her last remaining family member is her grandmother, but she dies, and Mikage cannot pay the rent for their apartment. Alone and essentially orphaned, she is taken in by a young man, Yuichi Tanabe, and his mother, Eriko Tanabe, who is a transwoman.  The connection between Mikage and Yuichi is instantaneous. He works at a flower shop that her grandmother frequented and even helps at the funeral. When Mikage first meets him, she "saw a straight road leading from me to him. He seemed to glow with white light. That was the effect he had on me.” Yuichi understands loss; his first mother died of cancer when he was very young. Eriko then became a woman. In light of the struggles she has endured, Eriko tells Mikage, “I understand what it's like to be hurt and to have nowhere to go. Please, stay with us and don't worry about a thing.” One of the notable aspects of this book is its complex and nuanced portrait of a transgender character. Eriko's gender identity is respected and, throughout the book, she is referred to by feminine pronouns and called Yuichi's “mother.” Furthermore, Eriko is not constructed as freakish, neither is she mocked. She is a beautiful, nurturing, and generous person who plays a crucial role in Mikage's life.

At a time when she is devastated and lost, the Tanabes take in Mikage and make her feel loved. If this book is about anything, it is about how we save each other, how we need each other. Perhaps, in my position as a citizen of the very individualistic United States, I'm more sensitive to the way that Yoshimoto affirms the value of community and human connection. The text suggests that it is okay to need people, to reach out to them, to be rescued by them. And don't we have an ethical obligation to be there for others when they are in need? The Tanabes did not have to take in Mikage—no one else was offering her a home—but they understood the fear and anguish and grief she felt. Three people—Mikage, Yuichi, and Eriko—who have lost everyone they love come together and create a new family. Their bond is born of tragedy and grief, but that's what makes it so powerful and enduring. They help one another survive.

Soon, Mikage has graduated and landed a position as an assistant in a cooking school. She's always loved food, always been comforted by the space of the kitchen. After her grandmother died, the only place she could sleep was on the kitchen floor, soothed by the lullaby of the humming refrigerator. When she moves into the home of the Tanabes, it's their kitchen she immediately loves. So her passion for food leads her to other places, and she leaves Yuichi and Eriko.

Then, Eriko dies unexpectedly when a man begins stalking her and ends up stabbing her to death.  This part of the book is important because it exposes the very real violence that transwoman experience. The obsessive behaviors of Eriko's stalker seem triggered by Eriko's identity as a transgender person. He is attracted to her, and, when he finds out she was born a man, only then does the aggressive stalking begin. His motive springs from wounded masculinity and is fueled by a desire for revenge.

Eriko's death devastates Mikage. “Never had I felt so alone as I did now,” she says. After the death of her parents, she had her grandmother. After the death of her grandmother, she had the Tanabes. Now, in the wake of Eriko's passing, Mikage feels completely alone. But she does have one person—Yuichi. Their shared knowledge of loss brings them closer together.

Mikage says to Yuichi: “My god—in this gigantic universe there can't be a pair like us. The fact that we're friends is amazing. All this death...all this death.”

I am reminded of Ingmar Bergman's words to Liv Ullmann: “We are painfully connected.”

Similarly, Mikage and Yuichi are “painfully connected” by grief. They know what many their age do not—that we lose what we love, that we ourselves can cease at any moment—but it does not stop them from loving or living. Despite what she has endured, Mikage declares: “No matter what, I want to continue living with the awareness that I will die. Without that, I am not alive.”

Later, she will go to Yuichi in the middle of the night and tell him “We've been very lonely, but we had it easy. Because death is so heavy—we, too young to know about it, couldn't handle it. After this you and I may end up seeing nothing but suffering, difficulty, and ugliness, but if only you'll agree to it, I want for us to go on to more difficult places, happier places, whatever comes, together." She knows he is struggling with his mother's death, that he is isolating himself, that he needs time alone, but she wants him to know that she is there waiting for him when he needs someone and that, with the love and support of one another, they can go on.

I'm reminded of a Virginia Woolf quote: “I meant to write about death only life came breaking in as usual.” That's how I feel about Yoshimoto's text—it's about death but it's inevitably about life, about the ways in which we survive. People can and will be lost but we cannot stop loving them, we cannot stop reaching out to them.

For so long, I've asked myself what is the meaning of loss? What do I do with this permanent, ghastly, unwanted thing? And what is the point of life if it only consists of one devastating loss after another?

The only answer I have is this: Loss is the governing force of our lives. It is the source of everything—of art, community, love, but also of pain and torment. It is the one thing we all share. The one thing that links each of us to every other human being on this planet. What I know more than anything is that what wounds us also connects us.

I think that's how I go on, how I survive. Like Mikage, I have to keep reaching out. I have to create new families through loss.

“Moonlight Shadow”

Yoshimoto continues the theme of connection through loss in her short story “Moonlight Shadow.” The narrator, Satsuki, has lost her lover, Hitoshi, in an automobile accident that also claimed the life of his brother's girlfriend, Yumiko. Satsuki and Hitoshi's brother, Hiiragi, are brought together through their shared grief. She deals with her pain through taking up jogging while Hiiragi wears Yumiko's sailor outfit every day despite the protestations of his parents.

One day, after jogging to a river, where she and Hitoshi spent time together, Satsuki meets a mysterious woman named Urara who has psychic powers. She tells Satsuki to return to the river on a specific day and time during which she will witness a “vision...something that happens only once every hundred years or so.”

Satsuki goes to the river on the appointed day and has a miraculous experience:
There was Hitoshi.
Across the river, if this wasn't a dream, and I wasn't crazy, the figure facing me was Hitoshi. Separated from him by the water, my chest welling up, I focused my eyes on that form, the very image of the memory I kept in my heart.
For a moment, the boundary between life and death is breached. Though the river separates Satsuki and Hitoshi, their meeting suggests that the dead are never completely gone, that we can still conjure them in our minds or even in the spaces where we existed with them. Yoshimoto uses the fantastical to show the power of literature to resurrect the dead. When we read this passage, we not only experience the vision with Satsuki. Through words, we create the resurrection of our own dead. Yoshimoto gives Satsuki a final image of the beloved but, in a way, she gives us a reunion with our loved ones too. She shows us how imagination can be harnessed to bring the dead back into our reality. It makes me wonder: Isn't this a function of the grief text--To imagine the unimaginable? To imagine what was denied us? To create an alternative world? When we write the dead, perhaps we bring them to life if only on the page.

But briefly resurrecting the dead comes with its own kind of pain—the pain of losing them all over again.
Before my eyes, Hitoshi grew faint. When I began to panic, he smiled and waved his hand. Again and again, he waved his hand. He was disappearing into the blue void. I, too, waved. Dear, much-missed Hitoshi--I tried to burn the line of his dear shoulders, his dear arms, all of him, into my brain. The faint colors of his form, even the heat of the tears running down my cheeks: I desperately struggled to memorize it all."
Hitoshi disappears once again, and, while Urara insists that having this final good-bye was a good thing, Satsuki is not convinced. In fact, she is ambivalent about the experience:

Hitoshi waving good-bye. It was a painful sight, like a ray of light piercing my heart.
Whether it had been for the best was not something I as yet fully understood. I only knew that, right now, sitting in the strong sunlight, its lingering memory in my breast was very painful. It hurts so much I could barely breathe.
Yoshimoto complicates our ideas about closure and healing. Does finally saying good-bye erase Satsuki's grief? Not necessarily. Hitoshi is still dead. That fact is as undeniable and unbearable as it was before the vision. As comforting as it might be to, in our daydreams, bring the dead back to life, we must always confront their permanent absence.

Satsuki later learns that Hiiragi also saw his lost lover, Yumiko. She came to him and took her sailor outfit out of his closet. These visions seem to be a way for the dead to tell the living that it is time to move on, to let go of them, and the characters seem willing to do this. Satsuki and Hiiragi's relationship mirrors that of Mikage and Yuichi in Kitchen—they have forged a bond, through grief, that will be with them for the rest of their lives.

Both Kitchen and “Moonlight Shadow” explore the struggle to cope with grief in one's youth. All the characters are young and unprepared for the intrusion of loss so early in their lives. While Mikage in Kitchen and Satsuki in “Moonlight Shadow” express a deep sense of loneliness, nonetheless they manage to connect with other people—Yuichi and Hiiragi—who understand their pain. In the aftermath of so much loss, they salvage what they can from life and affirm the power of love and friendship to help us survive tragedy.

The Four Stories We Tell Ourselves About Death

Philosopher Stephen Cave begins with a dark but compelling question: When did you first realize you were going to die? And even more interestingly: Why do we humans so often resist the inevitability of death? In a fascinating talk Cave explores four narratives -- common across civilizations -- that we tell ourselves "in order to help us manage the terror of death."

Dante and The Hell of Grief

Over at The New York Times, Joseph Luzzi writes about how Dante's "The Divine Comedy" helped guide him through the loss of his wife.

“In the middle of our life’s journey, I found myself in a dark wood.”
So begins one of the most celebrated and difficult poems ever written, Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” a more than 14,000-line epic on the soul’s journey through the afterlife. The tension between the pronouns says it all: Although the “I” belongs to Dante, who died in 1321, his journey is also part of “our life.” We will all find ourselves in a dark wood one day, the lines suggest.
That day came six years ago for me, when my pregnant wife, Katherine, died suddenly in a car accident. Forty-five minutes before her death, she delivered our daughter, Isabel, a miracle of health rescued by emergency cesarean. I had left the house that morning at 8:30 to teach a class; by noon, I was a father and a widower.
A few days later, I found myself standing in a cemetery outside Detroit in the cold rain, watching as my wife’s body was returned to the earth close to where she was born. The words for the emotions I had known till then — pain, sadness, suffering — no longer made sense, as a feeling of cosmic, paralyzing sorrow washed over me. My personal loss felt almost beside the point: A young woman who had been bursting with life was now no more. I could feel part of me going down with Katherine’s coffin. It was the last communion I would ever have with her, and I have never felt so unbearably connected to the rhythms of the universe. But I was on forbidden ground. Like all other mortals, I would have to return to the planet earth of grief. An hour with the angels is about all we can take.
Soon after, I went for a walk in the upstate New York village where Katherine and I had been living. I ran into the priest who had assisted at my college’s memorial service.
“You’re in hell,” she said to me.
I immediately thought of Dante, the author I had devoted much of my career to teaching and writing about. After a charmed youth as a leading poet and politician in Florence, Dante was sentenced to exile while on a diplomatic mission. In those first years, Dante wandered around Tuscany, desperately seeking to return to his beloved city. He met with fellow exiles, plotted military action, connived with former enemies — anything to get home. But he never saw Florence again. His words on the experience would become a mantra to me:
“You will leave behind everything you love / most dearly, and this is the arrow / the bow of exile first lets fly.”
Nothing better captured how I felt the four years I spent struggling to find my way out of the dark wood of grief and mourning.
And yet Dante could write “The Divine Comedy” only because of his exile, when he accepted once and for all that he would never return to Florence. Before 1302, the year of his expulsion, he had been a fine lyric poet and an impressive scholar. But he had yet to find his voice. Only in exile did he gain the heaven’s-eye view of human life, detached from all earthly allegiances, that enabled him to speak of the soul.
At the beginning of “The Divine Comedy,” just as he finds himself lost in the “selva oscura” — the dark wood — Dante sees a shade in the distance It’s his favorite author, the Latin poet Virgil, author of “The Aeneid,” a pagan adrift in the Christian afterworld. By way of greeting, Dante tells Virgil that it was his “lungo studio e grande amore” — his long study and great love — that led him to the ancient poet.
Virgil becomes Dante’s teacher on ethics, willpower and the cyclical nature of human mortality — illustrated by his metaphor of the souls in hell bunched up like “fallen leaves.” Virgil is his guide through the dark wood, just as “The Aeneid” gave Dante the tools he needed to curb his grief over losing Florence.
“The Divine Comedy” didn’t rescue me after Katherine’s death. That fell to the love of my family and friends, my passion for teaching and writing, the support of colleagues and students, and above all the gift of my daughter. But I would not have been able to make my way without Dante. In a time of soul-crunching loneliness — I was surrounded everywhere by love, but such is grief — his words helped me refuse to surrender.
After years of studying him, parsing his lines and decoding his themes, I finally heard his voice. At the beginning of Paradiso 25, he bares his soul:
Should it ever happen that this sacred poem,
to which both heaven and earth have set hand,
so that it has made me lean for many years,
should overcome the cruelty that bars me
from the fair sheepfold where I slept as a lamb,
an enemy to the wolves at war with it …
I still lived and worked and socialized in the same places and with the same people after my wife’s death as before. And yet I felt that her death exiled me from what had been my life. Dante’s words gave me the language to understand my own profound sense of displacement. More important, it transformed this anguished state into a beautiful image.
After Katherine died, I obsessed for the first time over whether we have a soul, a part of us that outlives our body. The miracle of “The Divine Comedy” is not that it answers this question, but that it inspires us to explore it, with lungo studio e grande amore, long study and great love.

The Holidays Hurt

It's not that you don't miss the dead every other day of the year. Of course you do. Any random day can bring a wave of memories that debilitate you. But the holidays cause a unique kind of pain. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, and the other diverse holidays that occur around the winter season, emphasize family and togetherness. For many of us, these holidays are the only time of the year we actually see most of our family members. I have vivid memories of Thanksgivings and Christmases spent at my grandmother's house. At the time, I loathed them because of my shyness and my tendency to want to be alone, but, looking back, I appreciate them more. Now that my grandmother is dead, I no longer see my extended family. All I have left are those memories.

The holidays can often feel very hollow when you're a child who has lost a parent.  All you feel is emptiness and absence. When you go out, you notice families together, you see other children with their parents and it only reminds you of all that you have lost.

My mother and I struggled through the first Christmas without my father. We decided to create a new tradition. So we ended up going to a movie theater together. The film took our minds off the pain. Now that my mom is re-married, we've created new traditions with my stepfather too. Whereas we used to open presents on Christmas day with my dad, now we open them Christmas Eve. It might seem like a small thing, but I think it's important to acknowledge that some rituals that we had with the dead cannot and should not be replicated. It would not feel right to do the same exact things we did with my father. Instead, to cope with his absence during the holidays, we've constructed new customs that root us in the present.

After losing so many people at such an early age, I think I appreciate the holidays more. Yes, they cause a great deal of anguish and grief. Yes, I get depressed and long for my father. But, at the same time, I am so grateful to have my mother, to spend time with her, and create more memories. Just tonight, on the spur of the moment, she and I went for a drive around our small town to look at all the Christmas lights. We were still in our pajamas, our hair was uncombed, but we didn't care. We became kids again, our eyes wide and in awe as we gazed at homes dripping with icicle lights and surrounded by glowing red candy canes, dazzlingly life-like mechanical reindeer, bright blow-up dolls of santa and snowmen, glittering snowflake ornaments hanging in dogwood trees. A winter wonderland. The stars were out, the weather was warmer than usual, the country roads were dark and lead us to the magic of Christmas and then back home again. We laughed together. We were happy despite, or perhaps because, of everything we have lost and suffered and survived. Love was there. Daddy was even there in spirit through memories we shared about him.

The holidays hurt because, at a time when you should show appreciation for what you have, you can't help but think of all the people you've lost. And that's okay--to feel that hurt, that ache, that grief. Sometimes, you'll turn away from the people you love most, the ones who need you because of their own pain. I'm not always the daughter I want to be. I withdraw and hide away when the devastation is too overwhelming and unmanageable. I'm not always there. I'm not always strong. But, somehow, I find my way back to what really matters--my mother, our life together, our indestructible connection. She makes the holidays hurt a bit less, and I can only hope that I do the same for her.

Virginia Woolf After The Death of Her Mother

Virginia Woolf (far left) after the death of her mother, Julia Stephen

Earth dropped on the coffin; three pebbles fell on the hard shiny surface; and as they dropped she was possessed by a sense of something everlasting; of life mixing with death, of death becoming life. For as she looked she heard the sparrows chirp quicker and quicker; she heard wheels in the distance sound louder and louder; life came closer and closer.
— Virginia Woolf, The Years

Robert Motherwell - Elegy To The Spanish Republic

Beginning in about 1948, Robert Motherwell made works that would evolve into an ongoing series of over one hundred painted variations on a theme that he called Elegies to the Spanish Republic. Initially inspired by the Spanish Civil War as well as by the poetry of Harold Rosenberg and Federico García Lorca, the real subject of Motherwell's Elegies is not any particular literary source or political event but rather a general meditation on life and death. Although specific paintings may express an individual spirit, or "tone voice," they remain a family group, related to one another by subject and by similarities in composition and format. In all of these paintings, the horizontal white canvas is rhythmically divided by two or three freely drawn vertical bars and punctuated at various intervals by ovoid forms, creating a structure seemingly heraldic in nature. The paintings are almost always composed entirely of black and white—the colors of mourning and radiance, of death and life. Motherwell has remarked on the entanglement of these forces in these works, as a metaphor for his understanding of the experience of living.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art 

Yonat Hafftka - After My Mother Died

It took a month and a half and
Only at the end did I know it was over.
She fooled me. Despite the smell of death
At her door that first night.
As my friend said, who also lost her mother a week later,
It’s the finality that is so disturbing.
I would like to think I myself experimented in dying
When I watched her, but I learned nothing
Save how final it was.
I have witnessed yet another unique death
That prepared me for what?
This time I was older.
I knew my own death would be a variation on the same.
But this was just a minor concern
Next to the grand desire to help.
Help her,
Help each other. We helped her move on,
We carried the weights and gave her the drugs
That would let her think as she wished.

Now we are the living
And the legacy
And we carry on.
Her dust is fresh and is still in the air.
Her wishes are null but remembered.
She didn’t want to tell with words,
She didn’t want to tell at all,
But she recorded.
She recorded with both hands in the clay
And she fired, one-by-one
Until she was ready.

Let your body rest,
Exit and observe —
The body is at peace.
You are free from the constraints of nature.
You make a promise to return
But it is understood at the door that
Goings and comings are unpredictable.
(Your tribe doesn’t take for granted
The return of the soul with the morning.)
Let’s go meet the other departed,
The one you loved as your own child
Before you knew what one’s own child meant,
Before you grasped the dependency implied,
The destruction
Loosed by the breaking of the bonds of safety.
He almost made it.
Together you can look back and laugh and
Resume the love.

from Sum: Poems by Yonat Hafftka

Rose Ausländer - Amazement II

Behind my cheerfulness
breathes the grief

Behind the grief
stands my amazement

beyond cheerfulness and grief
and beyond all
what was
what is and
what will be

translated by AnnaMaria Begemann and elana levy

thanks to Wild River Review

Man Ray - Marcel Proust on His Deathbed (1922)

At the urging of his friend Jean Cocteau, Man Ray rushed to photograph the author of Remembrance of Things Past on his deathbed. In the October/November issue of Les Nouvelles Littéraires, Cocteau wrote: 
Those who have seen this profile of calm, of order, of plenitude, will never forget the spectacle of an unbelievable recording device come to a stop, becoming an art object: a masterpiece of repose next to a heap of notebooks where our friend's genius continues to live on like the wristwatch of a dead soldier.
 — The Metropolitan Museum of Art


Senior year of high school, my english teacher once said to me "I don't want to see you drift." This was after I wrote a personal essay about the death of my father, which had happened only months before. I remember we read Hamlet and Frankenstein, books steeped in death and grief. I was obsessed with Ophelia. I thought of her constantly--drowning with the flowers, ruined and haunted by a dead father. Maybe I saw my own fate in her.

I had no plans after high school. I did not go to college like all the other students in my english class. I stayed with my mother, got a job in a factory, descended into anxiety, depression, and despair. Panic attacks.   Nightmares. Fear of everything--of loud noises, storms, leaving the house. My life shrank to the four walls of my bedroom. The future was not real. Only the present mattered and all I could do was survive.

When I finally made it to college, I guess I had hope for a future. But, in many ways, I am still the same person as before. Still afraid, depressed, anxious, drifting.

Now it is senior year of college and I don't know what I will do after I graduate. I am stuck in this life, in this small town, in this haunted house, in these memories of a father who isn't coming back. I care about very little. This is my depression writing. It controls me right now. It tells me that things will never get better, that this poverty won't end. How will I hold down a job? How will I pay all this college debt? How will I survive when my life is going nowhere?

When my english teacher said those words to me, I should have said that I drift, that's what I do, that's all I can do. I drift and drift and eventually drown.

Transforming Grief Into Advocacy

On the one-year anniversary of the Newtown school shooting, NBC Nightly News profiled grieving parents, Mark and Jackie Barden, who lost their son, Daniel. Like many Newtown families, the Bardens are fighting to change gun laws in the United States, but progress is slow. So is healing. Jackie tells of the last night she spent with Daniel, how she read him a bedtime story. She still can't read a book aloud. Mark, a musician, only recently began playing music again. When asked if time really does heal, Mark responds "I still find myself trying to will this all into a dream, trying to wish it was not real."


Yusef Komunyakaa - Rock Me, Mercy

December 14th marked the one year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting. Over at NPR,  Yusef Komunyakaa reads his poem "Rock Me Mercy," written right after the shooting. Komunyakaa's reading is especially moving because he himself has lost a child.

The river stones are listening because we have something to say.
The trees lean closer today.
The singing in the electrical woods has gone down.
It looks like rain, because it is too warm to snow.
Guardian angels,
Wherever you’re hiding, we know you can’t be everywhere at once.
Have you corralled all the pretty wild horses?
The memory of ants asleep and day lilies, roses, holly and larkspur?
The magpies gaze at us, still waiting.
River stones are listening.
But all we can say now is mercy, please rock me.

Untitled #4

In a dream
I enter a room
with no windows
with no light
I wait for your voice
there is only silence
You are dead
I have never left the room

Rachel McKibbens - Greetings from the House of Logic

Close to the end
we were told
to push the button
every eight minutes

were handed pamphlets
on how to accept
the death of our loved one.

After her kidneys shut down,
the nurse shook her head.
No more liquids.

Desperate rules for the dying.

Tell me you could have resisted
when she sat up for the first time
in three days, grey lids heavied
in a Morphine fog

and pleaded only for water.
What person wouldn’t abide?
Wouldn’t burn down
the tarnished face of God,
if they could?

thanks to The Bakery

Duane Michals - Death Comes To The Old Lady (1969)

“I am compulsive in my preoccupation with death. In some way, I am preparing myself for my own death.”Duane Michals

Sarah Blake - Sometimes I Think I'm Finished

What would 10,000 birds look like?
           what would they look like in flight?

The Chinese poets say 10,000 for infinity.

Flying by me in my sleep they do
           seem to go on forever.
They seem like symbols

or one symbol. And they could be likened
            to the passing of my grandfather

if I could see them passing and not also be moving.

          I come across his handwriting in the house.

thanks to The Bakery

Mourning Nelson Mandela

Of all the tributes written for the truly radical and revolutionary Nelson Mandela, Ariel Dorfman's memories of the towering South African leader have made the deepest impression on me. Dorfman remembers a man still haunted by the violence he witnessed in his childhood, a man who understood the scars left by the past and the human need for justice.

It is tempting, in the first waves of grief, to represent the dead as larger than life, almost as not even human. A famous figure like Mandela is all too vulnerable to this mythologizing tendency, but Dorfman gives us a glimpse of a man--not a myth--who was all-too-human.

And it is now, of course, that Mandela will become ever more dangerously legendary. If he could not defend himself while alive from this incessant sanctification, how can he manage, from the other side of death, to be treated, quite simply, as a human being of flesh and blood, like all in this universe who are born and who eat, who eat and love, who love and die?
That’s why I would like, in this painful moment when Mandela begins to escape into the speeches and the posters, the statues and ceremonies and monuments, to rescue the real, tangible, corporal man who has just died.
I was fortunate enough to have spent some time with Madiba (the clan name by which he wished to be addressed) on July 28, 2010, when I visited Johannesburg to deliver the Mandela Lecture, a conference which is celebrated every year in his honor. When I received the invitation, my hosts suggested that Mandela would receive my wife Angélica and me for lunch at his residence, as long as he was not indisposed. It turned out that, due to his ailing health, such a treat was not possible, but we were able to meet for an hour at the Foundation which bears his name.
It would be one of Mandela’s last encounters with somebody who was not a member of his immediate entourage.
His frailty was readily apparent. But if his movements were slow and precarious, his handshake was warm and firm, and his rather rigid face gloriously lit up when he smiled. Which he did often, especially when he looked at Graça Machel, his second wife, who had taken care of him in his old age, the person we must thank for helping such a mistreated man to survive until his 94th year.
Of what did we speak? Of Allende, naturally. And of the xenophobic attacks on foreign workers from other African nations that were, according to Mandela, shameful. And of his hopes for his own land, the need to carry on without him.
All of which was relatively predictable.
What was special came when he talked about his parents. Like all men who live to an advanced age, he was immersed in his own remote past, and on this occasion, because we spoke about his birthday, he mentioned an incident in which his father had beaten his mother, a degradation that has never been consigned in any of his biographies.
Suddenly, another Mandela appeared. Someone who adores his father but is critical of his behavior. Someone who loves his mother but is embarrassed by her disgrace. Someone who, decades before turning into the magnificent protagonist who would save his land and would offer an example of moral integrity to our troubled humanity, was just a child, small and defenseless, realizing that injustice always begins with the smallest acts, those that seem most inconsequential and easy to forget. A child that witnesses an attack against his mother—or perhaps this is something that happened before he was born, was recounted to him later, this was not clear from his narration—and asks, confronted by the desolate immensity of the African continent, why pain exists, asks about the mysteries of an authoritarian world that seems so permanent and unalterable and yet must someday be rectified, made right, made better.
That is the Mandela I wish to remember.
The Mandela who lived this terrible century day after day and did not succumb to the will of his captors.
The Mandela who cherished his little garden while in jail.
He loved to plant and reap under the rain and under the sun, knowing that to exercise a minimal influence over that small parcel of earth was a way of controlling his dignity and his memories and his loyalty towards his comrades. A man who shared fruit and vegetables with the other prisoners, but also with his guards, anticipating the sort of nation that he dreamt of and desired.
That is how I wish to remember Madiba.
Like a garden that grows as if it were made of memories. Like a garden that grows like justice needs to grow. Like a garden that reconciles us to existence and death and irreparable loss. Like a garden that grows, as Mandela must now grow inside all of us, inside this realm that he helped to create and that will have to find a way to remain faithful to his life and legacy.

The Burial of Leo Tolstoy

Astopova Train Station, on the right is the house where Tolstoy died
En route to Tolstoy's house, visible in the distance is the village of Yasnaya Polyana
Deputation of the Yasno-Polyanskyi Peasants
Peasant carts with funeral wreaths
Mourners at Tolstoy's prepared grave
The lowering of Tolstoy's coffin into the grave with kneeling mourners 

These six photo-postcards show various places and moments surrounding the death and burial of Leo Tolstoy. In November 1910 the eighty-two-year-old novelist walked away from his great wealth to devote himself to Christian charity and died in a stationmaster's house after falling ill on a train. Tolstoy's death was of tremendous national importance, and how he was to be mourned–whether to kneel or stand at the grave, for instance–signified a contrast between old and new that would be decided during the Russian Revolution seven years later.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art 

Mourning Lady, 1850s

Rachel McKibbens - Portsmouth, OH (A Dirge in Four Parts)

A Mother Bargains with a God Not Listening
Dear God, I cannot offer my life. I have five children.
My life is not mine. So I offer you: 
My blood engine father. My curdled mother.
The sweet elderly couple across the street.
The woman in aisle nine ignoring her sticky child.
The sticky child. The homeless veteran with the empty cup.
My uncles Gilbert, Phillip and Vinnie, full of needles.
Lonely aunt Jane and Lisa and Becky and Meredith.
The next person who smiles at me at the gas station.
The crossing guard, his four grandchildren.
All of them. 
             All of them.

A Mother Explains Death to a Three-Year Old Child
Remember when I told you how, when the trees lose
all of their leaves and the sky holds grey
and all the animals retreat to their darkest place,
it means winter is coming?
 Do you see how stained the sky is? How dark the clouds?
See how Ingrid has lost all of her hair? Her empty crib?

Do you feel how cold it is this morning?

The Three-Year Old Speaks Logic at the Funeral Home
Ingrid is in always winter. She lives where it is winter all the time.

The Poet Explains Grief in Allegorical Terms
He is a small boy, pale as a bar of soap.
His voice is the song of wires,
the gush and whir of an oxygen tank at 8:39 a.m.
I am not sure I can trust a boy like him.
He provides no warnings; an old bursting water pipe,
a sick syringe. He is King of the Dirty Baptism.
The Unrelenting God of Nightmares,
polishing the knives to stash in the medicine cabinet.
Replacing the whiskey with photos of home. 
He feeds dreams to my unslept brain: 
Last night, I dreamt you broke free of the soil,
your skin greased in heavenly light. I could hear
the blood inside you. Your life rushing back to you
in waves of defiant joy. You sat down
at the kitchen table. When I asked if you
were real, you started eating from
the vase of flowers. You said, The ghosts
that move through you
            have only one name.

thanks to The Bakery

Doreen Gildroy - Uncreated Light

Yours was the death, yours was the dying.

I found you in
the pauper’s field

and something sang through me
(if there
ever was a song)—
which I could
speak to myself, very quietly,
and move along.

Oh in my heart,
do you not think I am a part of this?

Bless the failure, bless the flame,
bless my fruitless attempt,
the shame.

And what do I do with this love,
that sticks like pitch to my heart—and will never
let me go.

Why I am standing in your image.
Do not try to change it—
to turn it into something
joyous and free—
you are here—you are gone—
uncreated light.

thanks to American Poetry Review

Richard Brostoff - Grief

Somewhere in the Sargasso Sea
the water disappears into itself,
hauling an ocean in.

Vortex, how you repeat
a single gesture,
come round to find only

yourself, a cup full of questions,
perhaps some curl of wisdom,
a bit of flung salt.

You hold an absence
at your center,
as if it were a life.

thanks to Verse Daily

Hallowed Ground

From the time my father was a teenager, he frequented a local music store that specialized in used compact discs, vinyl albums, and dusty old paperback books. Two old men ran the store and knew my dad by name. I like to think the store was a place of refuge for him. It had a slightly seedy atmosphere, drenched in the stale scent of cigarettes, but it was also casual and easygoing and unpretentious. Sometimes, as a little girl and, later on, as a teenager, I would accompany him and lose myself in the bookshelves in the back where there were only romances and true crime books (many of which I read and enjoyed!). I'd watch him as he went through the CDs, looking for what interested him. He'd buy me music too--Natalie Merchant's "Tigerlily," Paula Cole's "This Fire, and Tori Amos's "Little Earthquakes". All the ferocious, poetic women who offered me sustenance and nourishment in my adolescence and continue to help me navigate adulthood.

A few years ago, the store closed down. With the explosion of digital music formats and platforms, it just couldn't survive. Daddy was not alive to see his beloved music store close its doors. Today, I saw the store for the first time in a while. Its sign is still on the front but the inside is completely gutted. No trace is left of the rows of albums and books and CDs. It is one more thing lost to time

I think of that store as hallowed ground, as a haunted space. I can still see my father there, and I always will. I see him everywhere, in all the places I went with him. Many of those places have been claimed by the economic recession. They will never again exist, just as my life with him is gone forever. A few memories remain, memories I can't even touch. How I long to stand where he once stood, touch the objects he once held, feel his presence in a physical space. I could not look at the store for very long today. I turned my head and walked away, into the rain and the gray gloom of December.

What am I without him? What is this world burdened with his absence? All I see is the past. It's all I feel. All I do is mourn the lost, the irretrievable.


thanks to Hyuro

Thursday - November 22, 2013

Words have been building in me all day and, still, I can't seem to release them. I tell myself that silence is a legitimate response to tragedy, that there are places words cannot touch. Even so, my silence shames me. Each day that passes without something written feels like a failure. It's hard to admit that words elude me, that I am silent most of the time, that I'd rather avoid the trauma of the past than write about it even though writing about it is the only way I can really cope with it.


Vague thoughts have followed me around. There was another dream of my father, only it wasn't my father but a figure who represented him. I was using this figure, this man, to access my father. I still don't understand it. The dead become a feeling, like another sense. You know when you've encountered them even if they leave no trace, even if you're the only one who feels the pulsation. I want the dreams to stop. They devastate me too much.


There was the recent anniversary of JFK's assassination and I remember how my father used to watch documentaries about it. It fascinated him, but I'm not sure why. I never asked him. Like so many things about him, it will remain a mystery.


I've been thinking about his funeral today. It was so terrible. I try to block out my memories of that day but they are still very intense. When I learn about how other cultures deal with death, I feel a sense of deprivation. I wish I lived in a culture that valued the dead, that kept them close and celebrated them and publicly mourned them. Instead, here in America, the dead are hidden away, embalmed, laid out in funeral parlors where people gather and talk about everything but the dead person.


I am haunted by my father's viewing. I can't forget his pale corpse in the casket, how he looked nothing like my father at all. I can't forget the people all around me who never spoke a word about him, who did not share memories. It was as though nothing had happened, like this beautiful man had not died. I wanted something else. I wanted an acknowledgment of the life that was gone forever. I wanted mourning and grief and authentic emotion, not performance, not stoicism.


My father deserved better. At his funeral, the people who gave eulogies barely knew him. They spoke of a man who was not my father, and I sat there with my silence and my tears. I could not speak, and I'll always regret that. I just sat there, looking at the flowers on the casket, trying to comprehend the fact that my father was in that box and would soon be lowered into the earth, that I would never see him or speak to him or know him. It was shattering. My mother sobbed in my arms. There is no language for it. Nothing I write can place you in my body at that moment. Nothing captures it. My vocabulary is insufficient, but I still search for the words and I always will. My language is crude and ugly and rudimentary right now. Maybe that will never change. I lost not only a father.  I lost words, sounds, comprehension, the ability to make sense out of the world with my writing.


Now, writing has to be something else, not what it was, not a way to understand but a way to reconstruct a shattered self that will only ever be fragments and yet those fragments matter, they imply that a whole once existed. It's okay to not have the words. The absence of language is as important as its presence. The void matters too, the nothingness, the emptiness, the shadow. We are made of that too. Perhaps that's all we are, all that we become at some point--the absence, the hollow where something beautiful left its imprint. We write  in order to bear witness to the space the dead once occupied within us. We feel the contours of that emptiness and absence. It's the source of all creation, and all destruction.

Rose-Lynn Fisher - Topography of Tears

images and text via  Smithsonian Magazine

Tears of timeless reunion

Tears of change

Tears of ending and beginning

Tears of grief

Onion tears

In 2010, photographer Rose-Lynn Fisher published a book of remarkable images that captured the honeybee in an entirely new light. By using powerful scanning electron microscopes, she magnified a bee’s microscopic structures by hundreds or even thousands of times in size, revealing startling, abstract forms that are far too small to see with the naked eye.
Now, as part of a new project called “Topography of Tears,” she’s using microscopes to give us an unexpected view of another familiar subject: dried human tears.
“I started the project about five years ago, during a period of copious tears, amid lots of change and loss—so I had a surplus of raw material,” Fisher says. After the bee project and one in which she’d looked at a fragment of her own hip bone removed during surgery, she’d come to the realization that “everything we see in our lives is just the tip of the iceberg, visually,” she explains. “So I had this moment where I suddenly thought, ‘I wonder what a tear looks like up close?’”
When she caught one of her own tears on a slide, dried it, and then peered at it through a standard light microscope, “It was really interesting. It looked like an aerial view, almost as if I was looking down at a landscape from a plane,” she says. “Eventually, I started wondering—would a tear of grief look any different than a tear of joy? And how would they compare to, say, an onion tear?”
This idle musing ended up launching a multi-year photography project in which Fisher collected, examined and photographed more than 100 tears from both herself an a handful of other volunteers, including a newborn baby.
Scientifically, tears are divided into three different types, based on their origin. Both tears of grief and joy are psychic tears, triggered by extreme emotions, whether positive or negative. Basal tears are released continuously in tiny quantities (on average, 0.75 to 1.1 grams over a 24-hour period) to keep the cornea lubricated. Reflex tears are secreted in response to an irritant, like dust, onion vapors or tear gas.
All tears contain a variety of biological substances (including oils, antibodies and enzymes) suspended in salt water, but as Fisher saw, tears from each of the different categories include distinct molecules as well. Emotional tears, for instance, have been found to contain protein-based hormones including the neurotransmitter leucine enkephalin, a natural painkiller that is released when the body is under stress.
Additionally, because the structures seen under the microscope are largely crystallized salt, the circumstances under which the tear dries can lead to radically dissimilar shapes and formations, so two psychic tears with the exact same chemical makeup can look very different up close. “There are so many variables—there’s the chemistry, the viscosity, the setting, the evaporation rate and the settings of the microscope,” Fisher says.
As Fisher pored over the hundreds of dried tears, she began to see even more ways in which they resembled large-scale landscapes, or as she calls them, “aerial views of emotion terrain.”
“It’s amazing to me how the patterns of nature seem so similar, regardless of scale,” she says. “You can look at patterns of erosion that are etched into earth over thousands of years, and somehow they look very similar to the branched crystalline patterns of a dried tear that took less than a moment to form.”
Closely studying tears for so long has made Fisher think of them as far more than a salty liquid we discharge during difficult moments. “Tears are the medium of our most primal language in moments as unrelenting as death, as basic as hunger and as complex as a rite of passage,” she says. “It’s as though each one of our tears carries a microcosm of the collective human experience, like one drop of an ocean.”

Kelli Swazey - Life That Doesn't End With Death

In Tana Toraja, weddings and births aren’t the social gatherings that knit society together. In this part of Indonesia, big, raucous funerals form the center of social life. Anthropologist Kelli Swazey takes a look at this culture, in which the bodies of dead relatives are cared for even years after they have passed. While it sounds strange to Western sensibilities, she says, this could actually be a truer reflection of the fact that relationships with loved ones don’t simply end when breathing does.

Monday - November 18, 2013

It's that time of the semester when classes are ending and so many essays are due, and after writing thousands of words, I get to the point where I don't know what I'm saying anymore or why I'm saying it or why it matters but that's okay because I'm lucky to be in college at all, to sit in classrooms with brilliant people who share their thoughts about race and gender and oppression and women's literature. Some days, I'm overwhelmed with gratitude to be here even though it hurts to be away from my mother, even though I ache for home, even though I'm so alone that I get so desperate for human contact. It's my second to last semester of college. I feel like this is already becoming a memory; it's taking on that blurry, soft focus. When I think back to these days, I'll forget all the times I was tired and overwhelmed and fearful of leaving my room. I'll romanticize it. It will become mythic and I'll miss it like I miss everything that has passed. How am I living these days without him? I don't know. I dream about him. I yearn for him to be here, to see me going to college. I'll think of him on the day I graduate even though I still think about not going to the ceremony at all because there seems no point to it because he isn't here and I'll only feel his absence. I know he'd be proud. That isn't the point. I never questioned my father's love or pride; those are not the things I want from him. I just want him. I want our life together. I want to talk to him and learn from him and hear his voice and call him "daddy" again and know that I have a father. I move through these days. I feel old because I keep asking where the time goes and why time passes me by so fast. I wonder what I am becoming. I wonder what I will do when I have my degree but no longer have any dreams or ambitions because it takes all I have to keep surviving. I don't know what I want. I want nothing. Or what I do want--him, the past, childhood, safety, an end to loss and grief--is impossible. This should be the beginning of my life. Why does it only feel like the end?

A Recurring Dream

Every few months, I have the same dream. The details always vary but the same narrative unfolds: my father appears, I am astonished, and I go about telling everyone that he is back from the dead. I call up friends and family and announce the news of his resurrection. I hold him and kiss him and talk to him and he does not understand my joy. He has no knowledge of his death. He expects everything to be the way it was before. It's as though he has not been gone, the past seven years never happened, I did not put him into the ground. But I know otherwise. So my mind is confused. How can he be alive? But he is! He is! And I must tell everyone. I believe the dream every time. It seduces me and devastates me. I always wake up to my unspeakable grief.

I had the dream last night. I remember only fragments. There was his face and all the phone calls to relatives telling them he was alive. I woke up to a dark room, a cool November day, and I carried the memory of the dream to literature classes, hallways, and  elevators. Every space I touched, the dream also touched. I held this dream inside, like another world on the verge of blossoming. I had him for a moment, there in my sleep. He was real and tangible and breathing and I was restored only to be ruined all over again. 

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Over at The Feminist Wire, Princess Harmony writes an important essay about the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which takes place every year on November 20th and serves as a day of communal mourning for all the lives lost to anti-transgender violence. Princess Harmony reminds us of the struggles and injustices that trans people--specifically trans women of color--face on a daily basis and how their lives are seen as disposable, as not grievable. The Transgender Day of Remembrance makes a space for mourning and shows how essential it is to remember and honor the dead:

On November 20, 2013, Transgender Day of Remembrance, take a moment to remember the extraordinary lives that trans women of color live in order to survive in this hostile society. Remember that while we might not live the way you live, or share in all of your struggles, we too suffer under a patriarchy that wants to control all of us and destroy those of us who resist its’ control. If trans women aren’t killed by lovers or by clients, we are killed by the police that are supposed to protect all citizens, or we are killed by prejudiced doctors and emergency personnel that refuse to do their jobs. When a sister dies, does she get justice? Most of the time, the answer is no. If the defendants don’t give the “trans panic” defense, then some other failure of the justice system will take place. That is, if the murderers are even arrested or if the death is investigated.
If what I have written has not delivered the message, then I will say it as clearly as I can: the lives of trans women of color are often impossibly difficult, and yet, many of us are able to survive. We live on as daughters, friends, lovers, coworkers, and as humans. Remember that we are human beings just like you. We struggle with life’s challenges and we survive in spite of a patriarchy that tries to destroy us, similar to many of you. Our deaths may go unheeded by the majority, but know that trans women hurt every time each one of us dies unjustly. Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) is a sacred day. It is a day to mourn those we have lost, whether we knew them or not. It should be a day for mourning and nothing else. It is a day that we mourn our dead, many of whom do not get mourned on any day other than TDOR. It is also the day that our anger boils down to us seeking justice for those who have not received it.


Harriet Brown - Shell

I found it in the wash, the orange
shell I picked up on the beach
that last time. One of my girls—
the one named after you—

must have found it in my room
and wanted it. Clean calcareous
curve, a palm open to nothing,
reeking of sunshine

and your death. For years
I didn't know what to do with it.
You would have liked
this story: how a child

slips grief into a careless pocket.
Breaks it to pieces. Lets it go.

Maya Lin on Designing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

I had a simple impulse to cut into the earth. 
I imagined taking a knife and cutting into the earth, opening it up, an initial violence and pain that in time would heal. The grass would grow back, but the initial cut would remain a pure flat surface in the earth with a polished, mirrored surface, much like the surface on a geode when you cut it and polish the edge. The need for the names to be on the memorial would become the memorial; there was no need to embellish the design further. The people and their names would allow everyone to respond and remember. 
It would be an interface, between our world and the quieter, darker, more peaceful world beyond. I chose black granite in order to make the surface reflective and peaceful. I never looked at the memorial as a wall, an object, but as an edge to the earth, an opened side. The mirrored effect would double the size of the park, creating two worlds, one we are a part of and one we cannot enter.
— Maya Lin, "Making The Memorial"

Judith Butler on Grief and Mourning

The question that preoccupies me in the light of recent global violence is, Who counts as human? Whose lives count as lives? And, finally, What makes for a grievable life? Despite our differences in location and history, my guess is that it is possible to appeal to a "we," for all of us have some notion of what it is to have lost somebody. Loss has made a tenuous "we" of us all.


I do not think that successful grieving implies that one has forgotten another person or that something else has come along to take its place, as if full substitutability were something for which we might strive.

Perhaps, rather, one mourns when one accepts that by the loss one undergoes one will be changed, possibly forever. Perhaps mourning has to do with agreeing to undergo a transformation (perhaps one should say submitting to a transformation) the full result of which one cannot know in advance. There is losing, as we know, but there is also the transformative effect of loss, and this latter cannot be charted or planned.


Freud reminded us that when we lose someone, we do not always know what it is in that person that has been lost. So when one loses, one is also faced with something enigmatic: something is hiding in the loss, something is lost within the recess of loss. If mourning involves knowing what one has lost (and melancholia originally meant, to a certain extent, not knowing), then mourning would be maintained by its enigmatic dimension, by the experience of not knowing incited by losing what we cannot fully fathom.


Many people think that grief is privatizing, that it returns us to a solitary situation and is, in that sense, depoliticizing. But I think it furnishes a sense of political community of a complex order, and it does this first of all by bringing to the fore the relational ties that have implications for theorizing fundamental dependency and ethical responsibility.


When grieving is something to be feared, our fears can give rise to the impulse to resolve it quickly, to banish it in the name of an action invested with the power to restore the loss or return the world to a former order, or to reinvigorate a fantasy that the world formerly was orderly.


Is there something to be gained from grieving, from tarrying with grief, from remaining exposed to its unbearability and not endeavoring to seek a resolution for grief through violence? Is there something to be gained in the political domain by maintaining grief as part of the framework within which we think our international ties? If we stay with the sense of loss, are we left feeling only passive and powerless, as some might fear? Or are we, rather, returned to a sense of human vulnerability, to our collective responsibility for the physical lives of one another?


Antigone, risking death herself by burying her brother against the edict of Creon, exemplified the political risks of defying the ban against public grief during times of increased national sovereign power and hegemonic national unity. What are the cultural barriers against which we struggle when we try to find out about the losses that we are asked not to mourn, when we attempt to name, and so to bring under the rubric of the "human," those whom the United States and its allies have killed?

—from "Violence, Mourning, Politics" in Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence 

Heart - Stairway To Heaven

It's Halloween night. I've spent the evening eating candy and watching a few scary movies. Earlier, my mom called me and said that she has very few photographs of me as a child on Halloween. I wonder why we didn't take more pictures? I remember one of me as a toddler with my parents. My father is in the photo. I wish I had it with me right now. I'd like to see his face. I still remember him and mama taking me to different houses on Halloween. They always made it so special. I miss those times.

By accident, I came across this performance of Heart singing "Stairway To Heaven" at the Kennedy Center Honors for Led Zeppelin. Just a random video that popped up in my facebook feed and now, after watching it twice, I'm sobbing and shaking because my father would have loved it. He introduced me to both Heart and Led Zeppelin, giving me CDs of their music which I still own. The performance is transcendent. Ann Wilson's voice overwhelms you. It feels like a state of grace.

I'm alone tonight. It's too late to call anyone for comfort and what would I say anyways? No one can restore my life to what it was. No one can bring him back to me.

There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold
And she's buying a stairway to heaven.
When she gets there she knows, if the stores are all closed
With a word she can get what she came for.
Ooh, ooh, and she's buying a stairway to heaven.

There's a sign on the wall but she wants to be sure
'Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings.
In a tree by the brook, there's a songbird who sings,
Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven.

Ooh, it makes me wonder,
Ooh, it makes me wonder.

There's a feeling I get when I look to the west,
And my spirit is crying for leaving.
In my thoughts I have seen rings of smoke through the trees,
And the voices of those who stand looking.

Ooh, it makes me wonder,
Ooh, it really makes me wonder.

And it's whispered that soon, if we all call the tune,
Then the piper will lead us to reason.
And a new day will dawn for those who stand long,
And the forests will echo with laughter.

If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, don't be alarmed now,
It's just a sprinkling for the May queen.
Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run
There's still time to change the road you're on.
And it makes me wonder.

Your head is humming and it won't go, in case you don't know,
The piper's calling you to join him,
Dear lady, can you hear the wind blow, and did you know
Your stairway lies on the whispering wind?

And as we wind on down the road
Our shadows taller than our soul.
There walks a lady we all know
Who shines white light and wants to show
How everything still turns to stone.
And if you listen very hard
The tune will come to you at last.
When we all are one and one is all
To be a rock and not to roll.

And she's buying a stairway to heaven.

The Medieval View of Death

Most of the time we try not to think about death, but the people of the Middle Ages didn't have that luxury. Death was always close at hand, for young and old, rich and poor - even before the horrors of the Black Death, which killed millions in a few short months. 
However, for the people of the Middle Ages death wasn't an end but a doorway to everlasting life. The Church taught that an eternity spent in heaven or hell was much more important than this life's fleeting achievements and there was much you could do to prepare for the next life in this one. 
Medieval Lives: A Good Death (BBC Four)

Mary Oliver - We Shake With Joy

We shake with joy, we shake with
What a time they have, these two
housed as they are in the same

Anzhelina Polonskaya - A person who is no longer here

A person who is no longer here.

Like after a neutron bomb explodes,
You touch yourself—
                         where the memory of him is.
The noise of a train outside the faded curtain,
the barking of the neighbor’s dog from March to February,
are the sounds of our humanity-hating age,
and of one nonentity put in charge,
a spoon, your plate, a stream of water from the faucet,
a piece of soap,
which is by no means unimportant,
you have admit, there’s even the air
you breathe so as not to suffocate.

But the person’s not here. His dressing gown is empty.
Only his initials remain, you can stick anyone you like
into them
but you can’t trick the emptiness

Translated by Andrew Wachtel

Doris Salcedo - Atrabiliarios, 1992 - 2009

Doris Salcedo makes sculptures and installations about and in response to the violence and conflict of everyday life in her native country of Colombia. Like German artist Joseph Beuys, Salcedo sees her art as representing a social conscience, with her role as a perpetual witness. In a sense the work gives voice to those in Colombian society who are violently repressed, silenced and controlled by fear, and provides the focus for a sense of community, even defiance, though a collective memory and a shared experience of loss.

The materials she works with: simple furniture like wardrobes, tables and chairs, clothing, thread and animal skin, speak of the sanctity and familiarity of everyday domestic life. Through her molding or reshaping of these pieces - embedding a chair within a doorframe, grafting two tables into an unstable hybrid - she creates a traumatized, dysfunctional, object. 
With the clothes, each object implies a nameless person; the wearer. In the piece "Atrabiliarios," meaning defiant, old shoes, in pairs and singles, are encased in a row of wall alcoves, behind sheets of translucent animal skin which are crudely stitched to the wall. Below on the floor are small boxes, like living caskets, made from the same animal membrane. The shoes which bear the marks of wear, all belonged to women who were 'disappeared', and were donated to the artist by victims' families. Their place here, hazily visible through the skin sheet, echoes the persistent memory for all those whose fate and whereabouts is unknown, permanently suspended between the present and the past. "Thus 'Atrabiliarios' is not only a portrait of disappearance, but a portrait of the survivors' mental condition of wracking uncertainty, longing and mourning."
--Institute of International Visual Arts 

thanks to artistsofcolour , Sergio Clavijo, and Hanneorla Hanneorla