An unwelcome guest


Death Barged In

by Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno

 

In his Russian greatcoat

slamming open the door

with an unpardonable bang,

and he has been here ever since.

 

He changes everything,

rearranges the furniture,

his hand hovers

by the phone;

he will answer now, he says;

he will be the answer.

 

Tonight he sits down to dinner

at the head of the table

as we eat, mute;

later, he climbs into bed

between us.

Even as I sit here,

he stands behind me

clamping two

colossal hands on my shoulders

and bends down

and whispers to my neck,

From now on,

you write about me.

 

 

This poem is as sad as that famous six-word novel (wrongly attributed to Hemingway):  “For sale:  baby shoes, never worn.”

 

So, a good place for “Death Barged In,” a poem that brings grief to life in a way I can never get out of my head when I hear of someone’s loss. Bonanno’s poem feels like a truer depiction of grief than the quiet one Emily Dickinson paints–

 

The Bustle in a House

The Morning after Death

Is solemnest of industries

Enacted opon Earth –

 

The Sweeping up the Heart

And putting Love away

We shall not want to use again

Until Eternity –

 

This one is Russian and loud, bullying and threatening. (Sound like another Russian you know?)

 

 

As true and chilling as this poem is, it makes me laugh when I read it because it brings to mind its twin, a poem written by a student of mine years ago. Seventh-grader Martin, tasked with writing an imitation of “Death Barged In,” wrote a version that began, “The Fart barged in.”

 

 

(Sidenote: Only a month before this assignment Martin had lost his darling little sister to a congenital heart disorder. He chose this poem himself out of others that had nothing to do with death.)

 

 

Researching the poet, I discovered that Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno died earlier this summer at age 61. She taught writing for years in a Pennsylvania high school and wrote a best-selling (yes, best-selling) book of poetry about the murder of her daughter. Bonanno’s daughter had just graduated from nursing school when her ex-boyfriend strangled her. The tragedy led Bonanno to become active in domestic violence and victims’ rights issues for which she was honored.

 

 

You can listen to a wonderful interview with Terry Gross here, which begins with the poet reading “Death Barged In.”

 

 

Condolences to the Bonanno family. She sounds like a lovely person.

 

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