Grief and the Weight of Glory

ClotheslineThe wind whips through the quilts and sheets on our clothesline, cracking now and then like a benign thunderclap, tugging at the clothespins I inherited from my grandmother’s childhood farm. My daughter and I watch them as we swing together on the playset her father built a few seasons ago, before she was born.

This spring morning my father calls to tell me that his mother, my grandmother, who passed down those clothespins, has fallen asleep.

“Do you mean she died?” I say, knowing the answer but wanting him to say it clearly.

“Yes.”

We don’t say much after that. It’s not as if this was unexpected. She is ninety-three and has been dying slowly since her kidneys failed months ago. But there is a finality to it, my last grandparent, the last connection to another generation, as if slowly, my family, my history, my memories are being whittled down from top to bottom.

This is how it should be, I know. But it hits me in a way I’m not expecting. [Read more…]

Thawing at the Edges

thawing creekWhen the spring teases me one day, outplaying the winter dullness for just an afternoon, I go for a solitary walk. In my seven years in the Midwest, I’ve come to dread this part of the year. It’s not the liturgical season of Lent or the lament that comes along with it that I dread (lament is something I seem to be doing anyway these days). What I dread is the last months of winter when the novelty of snow and cold has worn off and we are left with the prediction of a rodent’s shadow.

My Texas constitution was built for sticky leather seats in summer, not the muted grays of a winter when everything left outside cracks, breaks, and busts. Ash Wednesday is a straightforward service to perform because ashes are everywhere; so much is burning, trying to keep all of us warm.

As I step out onto the bridge over our creek during my walk, the ice below begins to break apart. Some say it sounds like a gunshot when ice cracks. Perhaps it’s because a shallow creek is coming undone, and not a large lake, that I think not of guns but of a tree falling.

It’s funny that the rending of one thing should be reminiscent of the other.

I stop at the bridge’s edge and lean over, straining to see where the ice is breaking away. There’s a large hole, like a wound, in the middle of the creek. Water flows freely through it. I am transfixed by tracks on the ice around the hole. They look like chicken scratchings, as if some fowl creature has been tapping at the ice. The etchings are beautiful the way brutal natural things can be.

“I need you to think about what you will do if your grandmother doesn’t make it.” My mom tells me over the phone from Texas the day before. [Read more…]

Poetry in a Season of Lament, Part 2

Two Poets Laureate On Grief, Detachment, and Finding New Ways to Live, Part 2

By Sarah Arthur

Continued from yesterday. Read Part 1 here

By the Rivers of Babylon by Gebhard Fugel. 1920.

By the Rivers of Babylon by Gebhard Fugel. 1920.

Sarah Arthur: As Poet Laureate of Ohio, in what ways do you see the bardic role of the poet as “lamenter-in-chief” having changed over time? What role do you see a contemporary American poet laureate playing in a time of communal/national grief?

Amit Majmudar: This is an interesting question because of the question it begs: Is a poet laureate, or a poet otherwise in the public eye, obliged to lament on behalf of the nation? This is a culturally determined role, clearly; history has seen cultures in which the poet is meant to exhort to battle or record deeds of military prowess, and in which the poet is supposed to extol the emperor. Yet Virgil is said to have moved Octavia, Augustus’s sister, to faint with grief when he described her beloved son Marcellus, who died young, in the underworld; the great destiny of Rome didn’t quite hit her as hard. [Read more…]

Let Me Die Like This

redWhen I die, Lord, let me go in a plane crash, spiraling down, earthward, earthward, apportioned enough time to pray but not nearly enough to forget what we’re all prone to forget: that the end comes, it rushes up to greet us, every one in flight.

What I’d pray in my downfall is: forgive, sweet Christ, forgive, and this: let me see. Let me see myself in your mirror so I may know, before the end, if I am known.

They say it’s easier to conjure faith in desperation, but I suspect the opposite is true, that all we hold in our trembling hands, when the earth charges up to embrace us for the last time, is what’s really there, what we really believe, what we really love, be it God or ourselves or our children or our comforts, or likely some combination of these, with salvation turning perhaps not on a choice so much as on the algorithm, on our hammered-out parameters of love. [Read more…]

A Bug Night of the Soul

10800524884_59f58af19b_zIt was a night of tumors, broken relationships, lost jobs, and loneliness. A night of sharp words cutting people off at the knees. I hadn’t even read about that day’s ISIS exploits, burning churches, or anonymous children washing ashore—just the workaday grief in my messages and newsfeed.

I have an eating disorder.

I’m so lonely I can’t sleep.

Will I ever get a paycheck again?

By the grace of God, I wasn’t one of the lamenters, but I was a friend to all, knowing “grace” only lasts until I’m next.

I fluffed my pillow and put down the phone, and my husband turned out the light. He slept, and I lay there, guilty again of filling my head with all that is flashing and grim.

I should never have left her.

My father won’t speak to me.

I have news too scary to share.

Then something pinged off my forehead. [Read more…]


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