Gretchen Peters - Everything Falls Away

Wasn't a cloud in the sky when the news arrived
Just another bluebird day
Just a voice on the phone saying "I'm sorry"
Everything falls away
So I went down to the sea to look for you
Found the moon and the Milky Way
Watched the tide take back what it gave to me
Everything falls away
Everything falls away
And I live in the fear that my heart will break
I look for the thing that will cure the ache
Just one thing that the world can't take away
And I wanna dive beneath the undertow
Down to the bones of the earth below
I wanna know
I wanna know
Where did you go?
Where did you go?
I saw you so clear in a dream last night
Diving from the cliffs at Echo Bay
The arc and the pause and the slow descent
Everything falls away
Click here to purchase the new album Blackbirds by Gretchen Peters 

Noah Angell - Crying in the Ethnographic Field Recording

Crying in the ethnographic field recording is written around selections from the artist’s own collection of records, pinpointing moments of weeping and wailing as they appear in lullabies, mourning songs, laments, and spontaneous outbursts of sobbing as captured in the process of documenting oral transmission. Through an analysis of the shared meaning of crying within divergent communities, Angell focuses upon the problems immanent in grasping the emotional and psychical lives of others through listening.
Featuring recordings of the Bitterroot Salish, Bororo, Csango, Ekonda, Egyptian, Irish Tinkers, and Kaluli people.
Recorded by Adam Laschinger in Sigmund Freud’s garden at The Freud Museum, London on the 6th of July 2013 for the centenary anniversary of Totem & Taboo’s publication.
Click here to listen to the lecture

with thanks to Noah Angell 

Zelda Williams's First Interview About the Death of Robin Williams

At the Today Show, Zelda Williams, the daughter of the late Robin Williams, speaks publicly for the first time about her father's death. Zelda discusses the need for a larger conversation about mental illness, how she would like people to remember her father, and how she continues his legacy of charitable work.

You can watch the full interview below:



Untitled #7

A strand of hair
a drop of blood
a cell of skin
a fingerprint
All these tokens
of existence
your last traces
and I have none
beloved father
you took them
to your grave

Untitled #6

You are
the dead
I am
the living:
two rivers
forever divided

Oliver Sacks On Confronting Death

In a moving piece for The New York Times, Oliver Sacks writes about facing death. His eloquent words show us what it means to live, to die, and to be part of the human condition.

It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me. I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can. 
Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life.
On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.


I have been increasingly conscious, for the last 10 years or so, of deaths among my contemporaries. My generation is on the way out, and each death I have felt as an abruption, a tearing away of part of myself. There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.
I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.
Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.
Read the full article 

Arcade Fire - In The Backseat

Arcade Fire's debut album, Funeral,  is defined by emotional intensity. The ululations of "Wake Up" still make me shiver and bring me to tears. Many of the songs on the album were inspired by the loss of family members, but "In the Backseat" explicitly refers to the death of Régine Chassagne's grandmother. 

Régine's voice starts gentle and sweet in the opening lines as she sings "I like the peace/ in the backseat." As the song progresses, layers accumulate. "My family tree's/ losing all its leaves" hints at loss but the lyric "Alice died/ in the night" has the most emotional impact. Régine is not talking about a leisurely drive anymore, she's talking about life and death, about losing someone who steered her and guided her and now she is on our own, no longer in the backseat but in the driver's seat, forced to take the wheel. This transition from backseat to driver's seat suggests a kind of awakening, a transition from innocence to experience. Death has initiated her. Death has changed her from a child to an adult.  Régine's voice builds and crashes and, by the end, her singing transforms into a wail that conveys the heartbreak of losing another person and losing one's childhood.

I like the peace
In the backseat
I don't have to drive
I don't have to speak
I can watch the countryside
And I can fall asleep
My family tree's
Losing all its leaves
Crashing towards the driver's seat
The lightning bolt made enough heat
To melt the street beneath your feet
Alice died
In the night
I've been learning to drive
My whole life
I've been learning
I like the peace
In the backseat
I don't have to drive
I don't have to speak
I can watch the countryside
Alice died
In the night
I've been learning to drive
My whole life
I've been learning how

Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell on The Death of Other Poets

At Poetry Magazine, Austin Allen examines how Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell wrote about the death of other poets in their letters to one another. Allen collects an array of passages from the letters that reveal the poets' thoughts on the passing of everyone from Dylan Thomas to Sylvia Plath.

Bishop and Lowell lived during a time of great loss in the literary world. In just one year, Allen notes, Robert Frost, Louis MacNeice, and Theodore Roethke died: and, over the years, many influential poets committed suicide, like Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Hart Crane, and John Berryman. Death was a constant presence in the poetry community.
The giants Bishop and Lowell knew, and among whom they towered in their own right, provide much of the peculiar magic of Words in Air. Fascinated as I am by the correspondents themselves—Lowell’s mad brilliance and anointed career as a Famous American Poet; Bishop’s quiet mastery and self-imposed exile in Brazil; the 30-year artistic friendship that nurtured their best works—I can’t be the only reader who started looking up other writers as soon as I opened the book. Still, it may say something about my temperament, as well as the period the letters cover, that my search soon zeroed in on comments about other poets’ deaths. 
“We are a brutal generation—brutalized—and yet admirable, too…” So Bishop mused to Lowell in 1963. They shared their middle years with those of their century, aging through the “confessional” movement Lowell inaugurated and Bishop carefully sidestepped. This was an era in which poetry had a fatality rate like 19th-century coal mining.
As it turned out, both poets were already nearing the end, and the continuing deaths of friends kept them sharply aware of their own destructibility.
When Berryman jumped off a Minneapolis bridge in January 1972, Lowell looked back with Olympian approval on his friend’s final years: “his heroism was in leaping into himself … bravely.” Whether he meant Berryman’s poetic output or his tenuous sobriety is unclear. Bishop’s response was far less grandiose, and free of morbid double entendres: “dreadful … an awful shock … so sad & awful.” It’s one of the most extended bursts of emotion she ever set to paper; reading such a horrified outcry from such a self-possessed soul, you feel the full weight of awful that had piled up over the years.
Read the full article 

A New Production of Antigone

At The Guardian, Juliette Binoche and Ivo van Hove discuss their new production of Antigone. The greek tragedy is a haunting study of one woman's grief and the lengths she will go to honor the dead. Antigone is forbidden by the King of Thebes to bury her brother after he dies in war but she defies the King despite the personal cost.

To understand Antigone's fierce insistence on burying her brother, it's important to provide further information about Greek burial practices: 
The Greeks believed that at the moment of death the psyche, or spirit of the dead, left the body as a little breath or puff of wind. The deceased was then prepared for burial according to the time-honored rituals. Ancient literary sources emphasize the necessity of a proper burial and refer to the omission of burial rites as an insult to human dignity (Iliad, 23.71). Relatives of the deceased, primarily women, conducted the elaborate burial rituals that were customarily of three parts: the prothesis(laying out of the body (54.11.5)), the ekphora (funeral procession), and the interment of the body or cremated remains of the deceased. After being washed and anointed with oil, the body was dressed (75.2.11) and placed on a high bed within the house. During the prothesis, relatives and friends came to mourn and pay their respects. Lamentation of the dead is featured in early Greek art at least as early as the Geometric period, when vases were decorated with scenes portraying the deceased surrounded by mourners. Following the prothesis, the deceased was brought to the cemetery in a procession, the ekphora, which usually took place just before dawn. Very few objects were actually placed in the grave, but monumental earth mounds, rectangular built tombs, and elaborate marble stelai and statues were often erected to mark the grave and to ensure that the deceased would not be forgotten. Immortality lay in the continued remembrance of the dead by the living. From depictions on white-ground lekythoi, we know that the women of Classical Athens made regular visits to the grave with offerings that included small cakes and libations. 
(source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Binoche and van Hove are sensitive to the centrality of grief in the play, emphasizing that Antigone's actions are motivated by mourning:
They persuaded the Canadian poet-classicist Anne Carson to create a text for them, and her deft and elegant new translation promises to be one of the real pleasures of the show, which opens at the Barbican in London before a 10-month tour with stops at the Edinburgh international festival and at BAM in New York. It is pared back, “bones and skin”, in Binoche’s words, yet palpably produced by someone with a lifetime’s marination in the text (in 2012, she also published a more personal version of the play, called Antigonick). At one point Carson produces the memorable line “archives of grief I see falling on this house”. The original Greek refers to “ancient calamities that are heaped upon the calamities of the dead”. The “archive” metaphor – original yet absolutely fitting – perhaps suggested itself to Carson because of its similarity to the word Sophocles uses for ancient, “archaia”.
And this is indeed a play that dives into “archives of grief”. Antigone’s storyline continues that of Sophocles’s plays concerning Oedipus, her father. Oedipus the King (c430 BC) ends with the revelation that he killed his father and married his mother. Jocasta, his wife-mother, kills herself; he puts out his eyes. Oedipus at Colonus (in fact the last of the plays to be premiered, in 401 BC) concerns Oedipus’s death in exile, accompanied by his daughters Antigone and Ismene, just as his two sons, Eteocles and Polynices are on the brink of war for possession of Thebes. At the start of Antigone (c441 BC), the brothers have, the previous night, slaughtered each other during Polynices’ siege of Thebes, leaving Creon, Jocasta’s brother, as ruler. Van Hove and Binoche found themselves drawn to rereading Oedipus at Colonus, and, says Van Hove of Antigone, “It was for me very obvious that this woman was in deep mourning. She has lost her mother, she lost her father, and now she lost her two brothers. That’s for me the starting point.”
The way the text confronts and presents grief may be one reason why it continues to endure. Both Binoche and van Hove were forced, by the text, to consider modern issues of grief and the treatment of the dead:
Both actor and director, meantime, have found a fresh and harsh significance in the burial of the dead: Binoche has been considering the agonies that accompanied the burials of the Paris terrorists, interred in unmarked graves. For Van Hove, the resonance is deeply personal: one of the members of Toneelgroep was aboard the Malaysian Airlines flight shot down over eastern Ukraine in summer 2014. One week his colleague was DJing at a party to celebrate the company’s adaptation of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. The next he was “just laying somewhere in a field ... for over a week, in summer, in sun, rotting. The Dutch did something beautiful which Antigone does here. After two weeks, they brought the bodies to Eindhoven. There was a hearse for everybody, and they were driven through the whole country. The highways were lined with people. It was a huge showing of humanity: that you show respect to the dead. For me it suddenly became totally real.”
Read the full article

Valentine's Day

If my father were alive, he and my mother would have celebrated their 33rd wedding anniversary today.


I keep thinking about the way life should be. My father should be alive. We should be together. I cannot accept life as it is. I cannot accept that he is gone forever, that the years keep passing and I am farther away from him, that everything has changed and the world has moved on and I am still drowning in my grief.

An Excerpt from Stone in a Landslide by Maria Barbal

It's been months since I read Maria Barbal's Stone in a Landslide, but one scene has stayed with me. I wanted to share the scene on this blog because it captures the moment at which a woman learns that her husband is dead. The woman is Conxa, her husband is Jaume. The story is set during the Spanish Civil War, thus her grief is both personal and political, entangled with the larger forces of war and history. Through Conxa, we see the devastating effect that just one death has on a mother and her children.
Elvira clutches my neck and squeezes me so tightly that she almost chokes me. She’s crying, she cries without stopping… I can’t make her answer. What’s wrong? What’s wrong, girl? When I begin to tell her in a low voice, Look, all this will pass, maybe tomorrow… she hushes me. Mother, Mother, this morning they killed them all, near the bridge. A soldier I know from Montsent told me, just now… The news spreads through the room. The sound of wailing and crying is broken by names being called out and by periods of silence, by people falling to the ground and by the terror of the children, who don’t know what to do. I feel an axe-blow to the centre of my heart, but not one tear nor cry nor drop of blood comes out of me. I embrace my two daughters, an arm around each and I feel their tears like a stream that cannot wash my wound. Angeleta buries her head in my skirt and I caress her hair with my right hand. I coil a lock around my fingers and I think of Jaume’s face, always smiling. A young woman cries and pulls at her hair. She rolls around on the floor making choking noises. And now at last I notice how my cheeks are slowly getting wet. Instead of a cry escaping, I feel a very strong pain in my throat, as if I am being strangled… 
A soldier comes in, his eyes bulging out of his head. He shouts in Spanish, Silencio y a dormir. Shut up and go to sleep.
I’d always been afraid of death. Of death at home. Of having to speak in whispers and look at someone who’ll be carried off feet-first the next day to be buried in a hole. Of being kissed by everyone, of false condolences and sincere condolences and of seeing the reddened eyes of people I love. And now I didn’t even have a dead body. I was more afraid and more anguished not to have seen his body still, not to have seen his beautiful cheeks, once the colour of pomegranate flowers, pale and waxen. I was sad and I had no body with eyes to close, to sit up with or buy a coffin for or accompany to the grave with freshly-picked flowers and weep over gently. He’d gone as quickly as a rose cut from the bush and I’d no last memory of him except a little spark as he looked at me during our strange goodbye. I knew he was dead and I would never again have him at my side, because war is an evil that drags itself over the earth and leaves it sown with vipers and fire and knives with points upright. And I was barefoot with my children, and I had nothing apart from still being alive. I didn’t even have a mourning dress because his death wasn’t like others, it was a murder that had to be forgotten immediately. His name was to be entombed behind eyelids and mouths with thick cement. I knew he was one of the ones they’d killed because they were taking me in the lorry of sorrow to Aragón. Because they had to take us wretches away from the only thing left to us: our misery, with our scrap of sky and our vale of tears.
Translated by Laura McGloughlin and Paul Mitchell
Click here to purchase Stone in a Landslide by Maria Barbal 

Kimiko Hahn on the Death of her Mother

Laurie Scheck: Your mother died suddenly— 
Kimiko Hahn: Yes, and I’d never felt as deeply—not any feeling—as I felt, and still feel, grief for my mother. A neighbor’s phone call woke us up before dawn—this was 13 years ago—and she told us that my parents had been in a car accident and that my father was in intensive care with broken ribs; that my mother, however, had died instantly, which he didn’t know. So my then-husband and I, along with my sister and her husband, drove up to Yonkers to tell him, to begin the process of taking care of him and all the things one has to do when someone dies. We also had to tell my girls, who were three and six. At the time I was working on a long piece inspired by Said’s Orientalism, and I had to put it aside. Nothing made any sense. I did immediately begin to scribble though—and out of those scraps came The Unbearable Heart. A poet friend told me how strange it was that the figure of the mother was actually dead, because in previous books there was so much longing to find her, to be with her; she felt fairly absent in my childhood and now she really was absent. He was right. Some of my grief is that I’m still looking for her, although I do get a tremendous amount of affection from my daughters. My husband’s two daughters are very affectionate as well. I’m very, very fortunate. 
BOMB Magazine, 2006

Untitled #5

In the hospital room
father becomes cadaver

afternoon sunlight
soaks pale dead skin

and I wait
for you to move again

to open your eyes
and reverse this


I write to understand what has happened to me, what life has done to me.

After a catastrophic loss, you're never safe again.

Months later, I still think about Richard Yates's Revolutionary Road, how Frank and April thought they could escape the hopelessness, the meaninglessness. It is that striving for escape that makes them so human, and the failure is the tragedy. The whole thing is a tragedy.

I think about my father's hair, how it's gone forever.

I can't help but wonder how life would be with him.

I don't care about the years that pass, grief is indestructible.

You are the pain in my heart, unstoppable.

I cry because of grief. I cry because of love, knowing a person can be lost and never seen again.

My life is fear--a deep fear of death, a deeper fear of life.

Write the void. Writing becomes a void: evidence of nothingness, of the unspeakable.

Life is too long and too short. The pain lasts too long; the joy is too brief.

Writing--an ache on the page.

In Boyhood, Patricia Arquette's character says of life, "I just thought there would be more."  I can't stop thinking about this one line. I feel it so deeply.

You come from life. You are life. You are death, too.

What I know cannot be written. What I write cannot be known.

My journals are a record of grief.

There is no form for this heartbreak.

This is what books are about: in the middle of the night, going towards something. This is writing, too--going towards something.

I never say good-bye to people when I leave a room. I don't think anyone will miss me.

The endlessness of life scares me, how we just keep getting through each day and the years pass and we have nothing to show for them. I always come back to the dream Clarissa has in Mrs. Dalloway where she is holding her life in her hands and showing it to her dead parents, showing them what she's made of it. What am I making of my life?

The hardest truth: You can't have any of it back. The past is gone forever and, one day, you will lose this moment, too.

I've started watching Claude Lanzmann's Shoah. It's unwriteable. You see the ruins of the death camps and hear survivors tell their stories of screams and shootings and loss and it's devastating. Why do I watch it? Because the damage we do to one another has to be spoken, exposed, and confronted, because the only real recourse the victim has is their testimony, to point and say "You did this to me here and this is what happened." I think that matters so much. I think it's one of the most important things we do: bear witness to our lives, name our suffering, and identify the person or system that wounded us.