Post Memorial Day weekend, post family barbeques, post trips to the boardwalk and camping ground, post online shopping for holiday sales—post fun, in other words— let’s ruminate on loss. It’s what we were supposed to be doing anyway.
Yep, there goes my inner Debbie Downer. She rears her gray head often these pandemic times.
Fortunately for you, today’s guest poem elf, Patti Russo of Indiana, is the opposite of Debbie Downer (whoever that may be—Bettie Buoyant? Cherrie Cheerful?) even as she takes up a difficult subject. Patti has paired two poems to consider loss and life after loss, and writes with an empathy and perspective that really does bring light to the darkness. Thanks, Patti!
Thanks so much for allowing me the privilege of being an honorary Assistant to the Regional Poem Elf “on location” here in beautiful Bloomington, IN! I chose these two poems, which I clipped from our Sunday paper months ago. I’ve had them taped to our kitchen cupboards ever since! I love them both for so many reasons.
The Thing Is
by Ellen Bass
to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you down like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.
This poem talks about learning to love life again after a tremendous loss. . . and in this case, death. By now, most of us have likely experienced a significant death/loss in our lives. . . I know I have. After losing my Dad, then a few years later, my older sister, it was, for a time, difficult to remember that I could still allow myself to love life even in the midst of my sorrow.
Sadly, I’ve also witnessed several dear friends who have experienced the MOST unimaginable loss: the loss of their child. I have watched as each moved through the grieving process into his/her eventual healing. . . it is long, painful & arduous journey. It is a beautiful thing to witness someone who has lost SO deeply, and yet has the courage and grace to learn to love the world again. . . only differently now, as a person who will never again feel completely whole. I am both in awe of and humbled by their willingness to take a chance on love and life again. . . to “hold life like a face between your palms. . . and say, yes, I will take you. I will love you, again.”
I placed this poem on a soon-to-bloom peony bush just inside the entrance to Rose Hill cemetery. . . just a few blocks from our home.
by Joyce Sutphen
with a blank sheet,
an undanced floor,
air where no sound
erases the silence.
As soon as
you play the first note,
write down a word,
step onto the empty stage,
you’ve moved closer
to the creature inside.
can end up as frog, cardinal,
mantis, or fish.
You can make
what you want,
do what you wish.
This poem speaks so beautifully to the possibilities before each of us despite the challenges life thrusts before us. . . yes, even a pandemic. I love the notion that each of us is “a blank sheet, an undanced floor, air where no sound erases the silence” and it is up to us to “make what you want, do what you wish” in order to come closer “to the creature inside.” We are a blank slate, a flat, shapeless piece of paper that we need to fold into being. It is empowering to know that each of us has the capacity to “will” ourselves into becoming the person we were meant to be.
I placed this poem, along with an origami paper crane, in a beautiful planter of pansies just inside Sample Gates, the official entrance to Indiana University. Coincidentally, clusters of Indiana University graduates, in full cap & gown, bursting with promise & possibility, were taking photos with family & friends when I arrived.
Just one addendum to “Origami”: I meant to note that those graduates did not march across the stage to receive their diplomas. . . there was no fanfare, pomp or circumstance. Like everything else in the age of COVID19, milestones big and small are diminished to a rather anti-climactic virtual tribute. Still, there they were. . . laughing, celebrating, pondering the possibilities for their lives. . . possibilities which remain limitless even in the face a global pandemic.