“Grief” by Matthew Dickman

When grief comes to you as a purple gorilla
you must count yourself lucky.
You must offer her what’s left
of your dinner, the book you were trying to finish
you must put aside,
and make her a place to sit at the foot of your bed,
her eyes moving from the clock
to the television and back again.
I am not afraid. She has been here before
and now I can recognize her gait
as she approaches the house.
Some nights, when I know she’s coming,
I unlock the door, lie down on my back,
and count her steps
from the street to the porch.
Tonight she brings a pencil and a ream of paper,
tells me to write down
everyone I have ever known,
and we separate them between the living and the dead
so she can pick each name at random.
I play her favorite Willie Nelson album
because she misses Texas
but I don’t ask why.
She hums a little,
the way my brother does when he gardens.
We sit for an hour
while she tells me how unreasonable I’ve been,
crying in the checkout line,
refusing to eat, refusing to shower,
all the smoking and all the drinking.
Eventually she puts one of her heavy
purple arms around me, leans
her head against mine,
and all of a sudden things are feeling romantic.
So I tell her,
things are feeling romantic.
She pulls another name, this time
from the dead,
and turns to me in that way that parents do
so you feel embarrassed or ashamed of something.
Romantic? she says,
reading the name out loud, slowly,
so I am aware of each syllable, each vowel
wrapping around the bones like new muscle,
the sound of that person’s body
and how reckless it is,
how careless that his name is in one pile and not the other.

Matthew Dickman, via the New Yorker

“The Tears” by Christy Anna Jones

You died on a Monday evening.
The Weather Channel says it was raining and windy
but I don’t remember that.
What I do remember is
the phone call in the wee hours of the morning.

The three-hour drive to the airport.
The Delta employees being too kind too helpful,
(there must be a secret code on one’s ticket for
“Her mom is dying.”)
The long wait for the rental car, the longer wait for luggage.

The traffic at rush hour, the helicopter, the rubberneckers.
The plea to god to let me arrive in time.
The dad on the porch crying.
The clock frozen at 6:21.
The dead body in your bed.

The stillness of the room, the energy gone.
(Where does it go?)
The lock of hair I snipped from your head.
The mini-van.
The whispered good-bye.

The dog standing in the driveway.
The howling.
The tears.
The tears.
The tears.

“The Tears” by Christy Anna Jones, via Melancholy Hyperbole.

***

“Are You Alright” by Lucinda Williams

“How It Is” by Maxine Kumin

Shall I say how it is in your clothes?
A month after your death I wear your blue jacket.
The dog at the center of my life recognizes
you’ve come to visit, he’s ecstatic.
In the left pocket, a hole.
In the right, a parking ticket
delivered up last August on Bay State Road.
In my heart, a scatter like milkweed,
a flinging from the pods of the soul.
My skin presses your old outline.
It is hot and dry inside.

I think of the last day of your life,
old friend, how I would unwind it, paste
it together in a different collage,
back from the death car idling in the garage,
back up the stairs, your praying hands unlaced,
reassembling the bits of bread and tuna fish
into a ceremony of sandwich,
running the home movie backward to a space
we could be easy in, a kitchen place
with vodka and ice, our words like living meat.

Dear friend, you have excited crowds
with your example. They swell
like wine bags, straining at your seams.
I will be years gathering up our words,
fishing out letters, snapshots, stains,
leaning my ribs against this durable cloth
to put on the dumb blue blazer of your death.

Maxine Kumin, “How It Is” from Selected Poems 1960-1990. Copyright © 1997 by Maxine Kumin.

“Beyond Recall” by Sharon Bryan

Nothing matters
to the dead,
that’s what’s so hard

for the rest of us
to take in-
their complete indifference

to our enticements,
our attempts to get in touch-
they aren’t observing us

from a discreet distance.
they aren’t listening
to a word we say-

you know that,
but you don’t believe it,
even deep in a cave

you don’t believe
in total darkness,
you keep waiting

for your eyes to adjust
and reveal your hand
in front of your face-

so how long a silence
will it take to convince us
that we’re the ones

who no longer exist,
as far as X is concerned,
and Y, that they’ve forgotten

every little thing
they knew about us,
what we told them

and what we didn’t
have to, even our names
mean nothing to them

now-our throats ache
with all we might have said
the next time we saw them.

– Sharon Bryan, from Flying Blind

“Two Linen Handkerchiefs” by Jane Hirshfield

 

How can you have been dead twelve years
and these still

 

***

The poem is broken off in exactly the way a life is broken off, in exactly the way grief breaks off, takes us beyond any possible capacity for words to speak. And yet it also, short as it is, holds all of our bewilderment in the face of death. How is it that these inanimate handkerchiefs — which did belong to my father and are still in a drawer of mine, and which I did accidentally come across — how can they still be so pristinely ironed and clean and existent when the person who chose them and used them and wore them is gone? … – Jane Hirshfield via NPR