Saturday, July 28, 2007

New Poem

Wrote a poem for the first time since Katie's death, and want to share it. I highly recommend an excellent sad song that helped me find a path toward writing this poem, "For A Dancer," by Jackson Browne.


There Are No Words

Her last few years in the house
my grandmother mastered a capacity for preserving foodstuffs,
uncertain what would be lost, or when.
When we emptied her deep freezer we found
butter from 1994, hogsheads of ice cream, enough lemon concentrate
to ceviche the lake where I fished with my grandfather.
He was a quiet man who was always doing nice things.
During his wake my father delivered the sort of elegy
I want to write now but I don’t know where to start.

The week of your funeral,
a famous poet wrote to tell me there are no words
and I thought, isn’t that his job? Doesn’t he spend all day
matching words to situations, fascinations, strangers? Poems for the dead
are called elegies and the best elegies rattle around anthologies
like lost guitar picks, suggesting the kind of music
that will never be played again.

We played guitar together.
You hated barre chords, loved The Flying Burrito Brothers.
One night we sat out on a park bench near the Chicago apartment
and played “Sin City” so slow I thought I’d lose my mind.
We played that song again in Miami, Bucharest, Sinaia,
at your office for the fourth of July and on the train
to Budapest with the Romanians practicing their English.

Some days I listen to that song and feel nothing.
I walk over to the grocery store and spend all day
cooking a big dinner for Ed, Beth, and the kids,
taking in the whole Greatest Hits album while chopping onion.
Nothing. That’s the thing about grief:
it doesn’t hit you until it hits you. It blades the numbness,
quiet, efficient, and sudden as sunlight. The doctor I am seeing here
calls it “shock,” and says it can be that way for months,
there are all sorts of books about it on Amazon,
one of her patients—a firefighter—was called out to a house
and didn’t think, until three months later, that the body
he carried out that day could be either of his daughters.
He fell to pieces. I guess we all do, eventually.

The grief that never entirely wells up or washes away.
I don’t know its source but I believe it is a kind of sustenance,
that the mind sometimes does not know better
than to try to overcome by consuming it all at once,
no matter how shitty the feeling afterward,
like eating the two-pound burger that gets your photo on the wall
of the local chain restaurant.
It’s just not the sort of thing you want to define you.

I keep changing the background picture on my computer,
trying to remember the exact details of whichever day.
Supposedly that’s one stage of grief, bartering.
I would exchange any or all of the days ahead
for that afternoon we sat out at the bar by your office,
drinking long espressos and waiting for a friend,
when the waiter offered to take a photograph,
not knowing I would spend all morning wondering
at the old man in a blue suit and his wife in a red dress
passing through, behind us, shading their faces from the sun.


Anne said...

John, thank you for this. I particularly like the last stanza.

Love from New York,

Marcus said...

Stages of grief be damned--Take as long as you need to, and grieve however you want. Maybe you'll never stop changing the background picture on your computer, because the memories (which can be painful now, but will ultimately be a comfort) are inexhaustible.

Michelle said...

I am so glad to see you writing again. It is a beautiful way to keep your memories vivid. It's comforting for us to hear about Katie and see her through other eyes. I am very proud of you and lucky to have you as a brother-in-law.
Love, Michelle

Kayla said...

I love the poem!!!!!!! It is so beautiful. Aunt Katie would love it. :)

Love Kayla

Good Ole Girls said...

When the hell did you get so talented?
I love your poem and have been carrying it around with me in my bag since I first read it. I pull it out when I'm walking to work or sitting on the train. It's a beautiful snap shot of your love for Katie.
Thanks for sharing it bhai.
See you soon.

Anonymous said...

This is amazing! I know I've sometimes bemoaned the "big words" you sometimes use (that befuddle this supposed English teacher), but these images are so vivid and clear. This writing is so emotional... I started crying again. I think that's a good thing. Like Michelle's comment, I'm so happy and impressed to see you writing again. See you down the road, Don (aka "Pops")

Anonymous said...

John, I don't know if there's a rule about commenting again on blogs... but as I was driving around doing errands today, I began to think how your poem is very much about the idea of creating peace in the world. Your lose was random and horrific, but there are many instances when we should be mindful of not purposely bringing this kind of pain on others. Pointless wars come to mind... Also, what's great about this work is that gives many of us some snapshots into your life with Katie. The part about the firefighter was also intense. Again, thanks for sharing, Don

Ben said...

John - I came back to read this again and, well, loved it again. I also pasted it into an email and mailed it to a bunch of people who don't know you but know of you. Many have been blown away by it. Post more.

Anonymous said...

Somehow in your words you captured the emotion for which there are no words. Grief, in which we each feel so solitary - yet such a definitive human emotion. Thank you for honoring Katie, your shared life, and us by sharing with us. Pam Hubbard