Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Love & Death

Once my partner complained "All your poetry is about love or death". Or both, said I, what else is there?

We had both overstated the case, but there is some truth to his complaint. I shrug it off still.

These are the vital points of our existence, the puzzles I take apart, and put together again, and have done since childhood.

And they touch everyone. When I was an overly sensitive teen I would walk alone through the seaside city in which I lived, and look at each person passing me, and as I smiled at them I'd wonder--what grief is hidden in that lined face? Has that little child known sorrow yet?

And I would think "and all--all of them, all of us, will die someday."

Well, I was a philosophic, poetic girl. And not always gloomy--in my early forays into grafitti I'd chalk bits from e e cummings poems on walls.

"i'd rather learn from one bird how to sing/than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance"

at least that's how I recall it.

The other evening I was buying dog food at the nearby market. The checker, busy ringing up the sale, gave me the standard "how-are-you-today?" greeting that the checkers are taught to bestow on us. Fine, said I (the standard response we all give). And then I looked at her. "Are you okay?" I asked. Her eyes were red and swollen, her face paler than usual.

It's a good thing I shop late, and am often the last customer there, because she wasn't okay at all, and had a heavy weight on her heart. She had just heard that her mother was very ill, and not likely to live, and was trying to figure out how to get back to see her, in the midwest. We talked a long time. "I feel like I'm going crazy" she said. "I can't keep my mind on my work at all".

Well, I know the territory. But I'm not sure there is any way to point the way. Grief is such a very solitary journey. I was able to tell her she's not crazy, and to give her a few basic reminders (eat, try to sleep, be very gentle with yourself). She leaves in a few days for two weeks in Oklahoma, a place she truly hates, where she will face family she dislikes.
When I saw her yesterday she had had another call. Her mother is down to 80 pounds and very weak. Perhaps she saw my thought on my face; anyway she stared into my eyes and said "do you think she'll be dead before I get there?"

I didn't lie to her. But perhaps her mother, who adopted her as an infant when she herself had just turned 18, will wait till this eldest child is at her bedside.

I wish there were a secret phrase. I wish there were trustworthy maps to this country. I am glad my own parents are dead, though I miss them every day, because I have made it through the worst of the mourning--the days when I steeled myself to get up, when I told myself I would not cry until I made it at least one block down the street.

Her supervisor was tolerant as we talked while she closed out the till, and kindly walked away as she cried, and I cried too, a couple of tired, weeping women under the fluorescent lights.

No shortcuts through grief.

And yet, I know there is some sweetness on the other side.


Blogger marlyat2 said...

"Every beauty suffers. A research scientist friend once told me that the autumn leaves are most beautiful on the trees by the roadside because they happen to be distressed by the salt and pollution. Every sunset is a reminder of the impending death of Nature herself."

4:58 PM, January 25, 2006  
Blogger David said...

Jarvenpa, I think your partner may have a point. I associate love and death with very powerful emotions. Such feelings are certainly worthy subjects for poetry, but I prefer quieter feelings. I find beauty in small things and small gestures. However, you are the poet, so you get to choose your subjects. :)

I like to ask my checkers how they are doing too. At WalMart, I usually get something like, "I'm tired and ready for my break!" Your checker was lucky that she found an empathetic listener. Grief is often suffered in silence and loneliness, but I think it is always better for the bereaved to have people they can lean on to help them through their pain.

11:07 PM, January 26, 2006  
Blogger ChittyChittyBangBang! said...

A slice of life!
You have a big sensitive heart, Jarvenpa and the woman in your post, like the guy in jail, is fortunate to have crossed paths with you. When grief and pain is shared, it becomes much easier to bear.

12:17 AM, January 27, 2006  

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