Everyday Poems #19, “The White-Knuckle Grieving”

donald_hall_jane_kenyon_1993

When my brother called to tell me Mom had been rushed to the ER, I could hear it in his voice. We were watching a Cardinals game, I think. And while I was glad my mom went on ahead of us and was with Dad, it was sad to know she was alone when she took that last breath. Of course, to say she was alone is to deny the reality in which she had daily walked. We are never alone.

My brothers and I and my Aunt sat around my mom’s cancer-racked body in the ER. They gave us some space. We laughed and we cried and prayed. No parents any longer. I remember looking forward to sleep but not looking forward to waking up.

Jane Kenyon is one of my favorite poets. I do not know if I have read a poem of hers I did not like. She is far too often known as the wife of Donald Hall, another of my favorites. And she also died far too soon of cancer. I’d like to include one of her poems here because it’s honest and sad and beautiful all at the same time. And everyone has been through something that colors the most ordinary events.

The Sick Wife

The sick wife stayed in the car
while he bought a few groceries.
Not yet fifty,
she had learned what it’s like
not to be able to button a button.

It was the middle of the day—
and so only mothers with small children
and retired couples
stepped through the muddy parking lot.

Dry cleaning swung and gleamed on hangers
in the cars of the prosperous.
How easily they moved—
with such freedom,
even the old and relatively infirm.

The windows began to steam up.
The cars on either side of her
pulled away so briskly
that it made her sick at heart.


The White-Knuckle Grieving

It is true, joy comes with morning.
But more often than not, years later –
after the soul’s dark night mourning –
after the years level-best thieving –
after the white-knuckle grieving.

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