Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Elegy for My Grief

Both my beginning and advanced poetry workshops are writing about grief this past week; the beginners working on elegies, and the advanced students taking on what I call "the Grief Demon."  Between the readings of model poems and our craft discussions, it has been a fairly grief-saturated week (and today is only Tuesday!).  

All this brought me back to a poem I began some time ago that was originally titled "Condolences."  I wanted to write about the way that old grief does, eventually, begin to fade.  I wanted to write a kind of elegy for my grief.  

You might recognize the influence, in the first stanza, of Denise Levertov's poem, "Talking to Grief," which begins:

Ah, Grief, I should not treat you
like a homeless dog
who comes to the back door
for a crust, for a meatless bone.
I should trust you.

 I've loved Levertov's image of grief as a homeless dog in need of refuge for a long time, for the way it understands grief as a being in need of compassion.  Now, I'm amazed, actually, that some of my oldest losses no longer have the urgency that has driven me for years - and I wanted to explore my grief for what it does NOT feel like, anymore.  What's left?

Elegy for My Grief

My grief is not a stray puppy hiding beneath the porch,
waiting to be brought inside, wanting warm blankets and table scraps.

My grief is not a freight train, heated iron wheels on iron rails;
no howl dopplering through an empty night.

My grief is not a phantom limb, not arm nor leg nor finger nor foot
still aching to strike or stride, scratch or kick.

My grief is not a bucket of ice-cold bath water shocking me senseless.
My grief is not a knife, not broken shards of glass, not needles of loss.

My grief does not stalk me, hiding around the corner of an anniversary;
it does not grab my ankles from some dusty lair beneath the bed.

My grief gave itself away, one piece here, a couple pieces there.
My grief fell apart like an old stone wall, melted like unprotected adobe.

My grief turned to sand, trickled back into the river it came from;
my grief found a pinprick in my heart, thin stream fine as spider web,

a slow leak over decades.  Amazing how it peters out at the end, isn’t it?
The way grief the size of Alaska gnaws itself down to a pile of dust,

a pair of eye glasses, handful of worn stories.
The outline of a body on the floor fades into wood grain.

When I shake my conscience hard like a hand-me-down linen tablecloth,
only a few stale crumbs fly out into the unsuspecting world

and I am, at last, ready to set that table once more.

- Deborah A. Miranda

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