“Girls’ weekend” and “death” really shouldn’t keep company, but a few weekends ago they did, and all things considered, it was nice. This November, for the first time in 23 years, my high school girlfriends gathered without our friend Christine, who died at the tail end of last year. The remaining eight of us weren’t exactly moping around all weekend, but our ninth friend, our sweet bubbly friend, she of the clear blue eyes and husky laugh, was never far from our thoughts.
Another death followed me around over the girls’ weekend. Again, it was kind of nice. My friends and I stayed at my at my in-law’s home in Florida, a home my dear father-in-law, who died two years ago, loved to share with his family. Certainly he’s still around the place. I kept expecting to hear his booming welcome every time I opened the door. I wore his hat all weekend and that was nice too.
I had anticipated feeling the absence of these two beloved folks, so along with my sandals I packed a few poems about death. But I felt presence more than absence. The poems, dark and anguished, express emotions heavier than what I felt.
I left the poems on a beach ravaged by Hurricane Sandy. The storm carved out chunks of sand dunes, ripped out stairs, downed poles, and deposited loads of trash on a much-diminished beach. With so much litter on the beach, a little literary litter seemed an act of beautification.
I left two poems by Jane Kenyon, one of my favorite poets. She’s a reluctant expert on loss, having suffered debilitating depression and then living with and dying from leukemia in her forties. Both poems concern losing a parent.
The first,”What Came to Me,” I threaded through some sea grass looped around one of the remaining beach stairs.
The drop of gravy is a heartbreaker.
The second Kenyon poem, “How Like the Sound,” I attached to a downed pole.
Here she is once-removed from grief. With a poet’s eye and a wife’s warm heart, she observes her husband mourning his mother: “Not since childhood/had you wept this way, head back, throat/ open like a hound”:
“Oceans” by Marie Ponsot I poked through a root exposed by the cratered sand dune.
“Taste like talk fades from a stiffening tongue” is horrifying.
Finally, in memory of Christine and Big Joe, I stuck H.D.’s “Never More the Wind” on a sea grape branch.
Sometimes the simplest words speak of the most difficult truths: “Like a light out of our heart/you are gone.”