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Caution: Poetry at Work

January: Emotion Work

January 12

If foods can enfold us in memory, so too can a song or a fragrance or sensation bring back to our conscious mind whole layers of experience. Returning to a place can be wistful or painful if it reminds us of loss -- we might feel it is too soon; returning to a place we have not seen since a time of loss can also help us see, help us accept the process of grief and healing.

Revisiting St. Martin-in-the-Fieldsrevisiting

So this is what closure feels like – a mild
lengthening of clipped phrases and a lingering,
solid and full of grief, over memories and places
I had to skate over quickly before.

Closure is not release – it is a cadence resolved,
a weight anchoring the end of something no longer
left hanging, no suspense, no airy wondering,
no habit of pain, no self rich with suffering.

Closure is the signal clicked off. Closure is
the floor swept clean of all the remains of the party,
the confetti and the broken heel and the water stain
on the table, the gift wrap torn in festive frenzy
and the cigarette burn on the prized piano.

Closure is the door latching after a long walk on the beach,
the cleaning of the shells, the setting them in a bowl
where they invariably look less lovely
than you thought they would,
dried, unpolished, washed clean of debris.
We come to an arrangement,
a done thing, a habit soon quite silent, indifferent, like bones.

Closure is not life and it is not death. It is an attitude toward
the endlessly moving tide that flings up shells for us to find,
and pocket, and clean, and then forget. Closure feels like loss
when it settles on the heart, but it is rather a solid presence,
a window opened so the bee can escape.

We did not know she was there
when we closed it just as the storm was breaking.

Karen Lynn Erickson
From Dwellings. Copyright © 2013 by Karen Erickson. Used with permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Finishing Line Press,

Invitation for your writing:
Choose a strong emotion like grief and experiment with the puzzle of absence and presence. In what ways is your chosen strong emotion well represented by things that are there, present, taking up space, even blocking passage, in the way? In what ways is absence a better category to express the experience?

January 5

"Hi, how are you?"become what you are then let go
"Fine, and you?"
* * *
"I'm so sorry for your loss."
"Yeah, it’s been rough."

Many of our daily conversations follow this pattern, but not because we're uninterested in each other's lives or unwilling to talk about what's under the surface. Many times we can't do it because our feelings are too raw, too muddled, too contradictory; they frighten us with their bald honesty. Poetry, with its love of honest emotion, dislike for platitudes, and trust of ambiguity, leads us into the depths and lets us emerge with words that answer the question, "How are you, really?" This poem helped me answer that question after my brother's sudden death.

Baked Beans: A Word from the Dead

How I long for a voice to break
            the long silence,
            a country strange and vast without sustenance.
A word in dream or vision to say, "I'm safe home. I'm happy.
      I'm myself and more, the person you knew and loved
            and didn't know."
Day and night I'm listening
            but not a word
            my brother as silent in death
            as he was in life
            when his mother and sisters waited months or years
            for a letter or a call
            as he trudged West, shedding possessions and people.
Just at the end he turned and flashed a smile,
            and then was gone.
Though he's in that new place where distance disappears
            in the twinkling of an eye, or so they say,
            he is as silent as God
            withholding comfort
            in the conspiracy of death.

But then from the friendly darkness of my recipe box
            I hear his voice, laughing, defiant—sandwiched between beets
            and broccoli bake
            his instructions for baked beans, sent just before he died:
            "I use pinto beans but I suppose great northern would
            work too. I just don't trust anything that is white.
            (Does that make me racist?)
            Mix in two tablespoons of mustard (make this stone ground
            not that yellow crap that people put on hot dogs.)
            Bake at 250 for 9 hours."

These are earthy words.
            Like dreams and visions they tell me only what I know:
            In a kitchen smelling of onions and molasses
            feed each other food cooked slowly while you laugh and talk
            and do good work.

It isn't much.

People have lived on less.

--Mara Faulkner, OSB
From Still Birth, Copyright © Mara Faulkner. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Finishing Line Press,

Invitation for your writing: Answer the question, "How are you, really?" Keep answering new versions of the question until you get to the true answer—the one that eases your heart.

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