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