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.



Kitchen

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.

Ima,
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

Drifting

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.

Sometimes
          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—
dead—
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.

Hyuro





thanks to Hyuro