thank you words that burn an offering bound in rope pulled tight laid upon the fire like a lamb or Isaac costs me something as if my flesh were on the flame
a lonely leaf scrapes down an empty street where all the doors are locked for winter behind them faces that I long to see hands I cannot touch clouds that shroud the stars make a lousy blanket I pull my scarf over my ears and hurry home
home glows like a box lantern on the little hill the door this door opens for me air warm as wind over hot sand rushes out onto the stoop throws its arms around my shoulders pulls me inside
unwrap the scarf take off the boots set my bitter feet before the hearth between chattering teeth I breathe words that burn and turn my hardened heart to weeping like wax beneath a flame I offer thanks
Insides carved out
Walls scraped bare
I am just a shell
Brittle and broken
I must be broken
because nothing fills me
Rains fall but never gather
rushing away in streams beneath me
Dust blows in
on sandpaper wind
gritty in the eyes, the throat
then blows away again
Leaves and flower petals flutter
down down down
only to dissolve
pixel by pixel before my eyes
Emptiness becomes anxiety
the urge to fill me up
for dirt and leaves
Bits of glass
Things that hurt
At least the pain is
I know pain
Thoughts that slash and burn
the same worn paths
deep into the folds of
my aching brain
Until I’m sick
and I lie here
wondering which is worse
emptiness or pain
What would happen
If I sat still in the
If I unclenched my fists
and let the falling rain flush
the shards from my flesh
If I let myself
Would I remember
how to breathe?
It’s Rejection that kills me
pain so similar to grief,
it’s like dying,
like being stabbed in the place just between my shoulder blades,
like being punched in the stomach with a lead fist,
like having a hand shoved into my chest, fingers wrapped around my heart
slowly at first, because Rejection likes to watch the pain creep up my neck, over my face, into my limbs, my fingertips, so that I can’t move.
We may be tempted to believe that those acquainted with grief should take the smaller losses in stride. We may think that after the loss of a parent, a child, a sibling, a spouse, what’s so bad about selling your home or a child growing up or friends and family moving away? But I find it’s quite the opposite. Once acquainted with grief, all the other losses become greater.
Grief remembers grief. And when those feelings of loss come in like the tide, washing over my toes and ankles, in that moment my body, mind and spirit remember…I remember…I remember all the times the waves crashed into my thighs, my gut, my chest, even over my head. And the feelings, though I do not call to them, though I do not want them, though I hope against hope they will stay at sea…those feelings come anyway.
The sorrow, the heavy emptiness, like a vacuum stealing air from my lungs. “It’s hard to sleep, to even breathe, harder still to wake and leave.” The waves come and I can’t stop them. Wet and salty and cold enough to burn, they come. Until I’m drowning, full of a sorrow I can’t contain, and those wet, salty waves, spill over the shores of my eyes. Waves that run hot now, because they come from the deepest wells of my heart and soul, the place where love dwells…no matter how I try to wall it off, or pack it away in ice…there lies love, love that can’t stop, won’t stop, burning, yearning, turning toward the smallest open crack.
Oh dear friends, and oh my soul, grief remembers grief because love remembers love. And love never fails.
I wrote the following poem as part of a poetry group assignment. It was my first time attending and I was quite nervous, but everyone was lovely (and talented!). The prompt was titled “Borrowed” and we were to use a line from another poem as part of our poem. I must admit, when I started with Shel Silverstein’s ‘Where the Sidewalk Ends’, I did not expect to go in this direction – it’s a bit dark for Shel Silverstein hahahaha. But isn’t that the point of the sidewalk’s end? Anything can happen. Oh wait…that’s another Silverstein poem…
Grief at the Sidewalk’s End A poem beginning with a line from Shel Silverstein’s ‘Where the Sidewalk Ends’
There is a place where the sidewalk ends A darkened river wends Undaunted
There is a look as he turns his head Squints toward truth, but we pretend Fainthearted
There is a dread and its claws ascend Gut, chest, throat, soul-flesh rends Departed
There is a time when the sunlight bends Her warm, blood-red amends Unwanted
There is a hand where his hand had been Too slight to comprehend Truth haunts me
There is a pit where my dreams descend Hope, joy, and light offend The darkness
There is Peace to my soul, attends Understanding transcends The Cross bones
I’ve stood at the place where the sidewalk ends
Where breath suspends
I AM THAT CAT We used to have two cats, Pink and Sabrina. They were brothers, which isn’t obvious from their names. That’s what happens when you let your four-year-old and her best friend name your kittens.
Pink was a super-sized, black tuxedo who acted an awful lot like a dog. Sabrina was a smaller, gray version of Pink, and he snored like something akin to a chainsaw. Like most brothers, they played and they fought and they cuddled when sleepy.
One day, when they were about five years old, Pink and Sabrina (both indoor cats) escaped into the great wide open. Pink came home. Sabrina never did.
We were terribly worried and sad, but no one more than Pink. Every day, the burly cat would climb in an open window or press his nose against our screen door and call for Sabrina. His was a heartbreaking cry and you knew, you just knew, his meows meant, “Where are you? I’m still here. Come home. I miss you. Come home! I’m waiting!”
This went on for two years. For two years, Pink called and cried for his brother. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised – those kitties were together every single day of their lives. I imagine Pink felt as though he’d lost not just his brother, but a part of himself.
I am that cat.
Two years after my baby brother’s death, my soul still cries, “Where are you! I’m here. I miss you. Come home! I’m waiting!”
Like Pink, I expect my brother to come walking up the driveway at any moment – to tell me a funny story about his son or to ask me if I saw that great play Dustin Pedroia made in last night’s game.
THE WISDOM OF FRIENDS I’m so grateful for two honest women who, in the weeks following my brother’s death, were kind enough to spare me the usual platitudes and instead told me the bald truth:
“No matter what anyone says, it doesn’t get easier, we just learn to cope better…”
I needed to hear those words. Sure, I’d lost people before – Kenny (Derek’s father and my stepfather who was like a father to me, died when I was 12 and Derek was two), grandparents who helped raise me, uncles and aunts and friends – so on some level, I knew their words were true. But I needed to hear them anyway. I needed to know that it’s ok that I’ll never be ok with this loss.
In some ways, all losses are the same – you grieve for what you can’t have. But in other ways, each loss is different. The loss of a parent triggers life-altering insecurity – Who will take care of me? Who will love me unconditionally? Who will show me how to do this thing called life? While the loss of a friend slaps us awake to our own mortality and robs us of one of the few relationships that isn’t dictated by birth or marrying into a family, but is instead chosen.
Losing my brother, though, has been much more like losing a part of myself, as if someone carved a giant chunk of flesh out of my side. My brother was mine and I was his. He was my equal, my side-by-side, my co-conspirator in the unique craziness that is our family and no one else’s.
Like most siblings, we shared a sort of secret language of eye-rolls and smirks and headshakes.
And even though we weren’t always together, it’s as if he was somehow, in every moment, standing right next to me. I knew he was there, just a phone call or short drive or the next holiday away. Only now he’s not.
And I am that cat.
The day following Derek’s death, I told my mom, “Now every day is a day he gets further and further away from me.”
My friends were right. Life hasn’t gotten any easier. In many ways, it’s harder.
Because now it’s been two years since I’ve heard his laugh…
two years since I’ve looked into those seawater eyes…
two years since we’ve watched a ball game together…
two years since he’s cracked a joke and made me laugh until I cry…
two years since I’ve held his hand, since we’ve played Wheel of Fortune, since he’s smothered me in a bear hug, since I’ve told him I love him.
I miss him now more than ever.
And I am that stupid cat crying in the window.
A STILL SMALL VOICE Eventually, Pink stopped calling for Sabrina. Did he grow tired of trying? Did his broken heart figure out that Sabrina wasn’t coming home? Did he simply forget?
I’ve thought about this a lot lately: How long will my broken heart search for the missing piece? How many times must I tell myself Derek’s really gone? Will I become accustomed to life without him? Do I want to?
I worry, as I walk into a future without Derek, that I’m losing him again, that he’s growing smaller and smaller out on the horizon’s edge, and as the light and dust and distance obscure my vision, I fear that soon, he will disappear altogether. In those moments, the black abyss rushes at me and the hollow wind steals my breath and the air thick with emptiness presses down and… will the losing never end?!
But lately, in the midst of those ruins, when the silence settles like clear, fresh air, there is something else…a still, small voice…a voice that whispers to my soul:
Every day, every day, every day that passes,
every day that Derek gets further away from you,
every day is one day you get closer to seeing him again.
So don’t worry little one,
for while you are weeping at the door,
your brother calls to you:
“I’m right here. Don’t worry about me.
I’m already home. And I’ll be right here, waiting for you,
I am that cat crying at the door. But my brother waits for me. I am a city in ruins. But I am being rebuilt. Every day.
I love you baby brother. More than words can say.
p.s. I’m about 99% sure that the next time I see Derek he is going to rank on me mercilessly for comparing our relationships to my cats. “I am that cat, Nichole? Really? That’s the line you went with? (followed by his high-pitched giggle)” Obviously, he won’t be swearing because we’ll be in heaven and all.