I know a lot about grief. Hey, I wrote a book called The Truth About Death. When I was at the Vermont College of Fine Arts Writers’ Conference two weeks ago, I ran into an old friend, another poet. He bought my book and by the next morning he had read much of it. “Wow,” he said. “The book is so tight, so powerful. That poem ‘Hole’.” He shook his head.
The next day we talked again and this time he’d finished the book. “You know, I’m mad at you,” he said. “I’m supposed to have the saddest poem in the country, and now you do.” He smiled, I smiled. I was happy he thought a poem of mine was the saddest in the country.
Now I’m sad because two people I care about have lost someone dear to them in the last week. One lost a best friend, one lost a brother. Grief has moved in to live with them for now, because grief doesn’t wait to be invited. It shows up and sits next to you on the couch, sits across the table from you when you eat, rides in the shotgun seat of your car, slams you in the gut when you wake up in the morning. Grief is a whole other beast than sadness, which you can be happy about. Sadness is where you can get after grief starts letting you breathe again.
I don’t know which poem in my book my friend thought was the saddest, but here’s ‘Hole’ because it’s the one he mentioned.
Brief brilliant color at dawn and now low grey
as I leave for a tidal zone, before the floods, fly
through the storm. I’ve been flooded all along,
peeling each day, birch bark curls, iridescent
interior sheen, hatched with black on the outside.
There was an opening we both walked through.
My land is difficult, flinty rocks, a scrappy brook,
water moving every day, how simple, follow
the rules. I peeled oranges for you, I was happy
to do it. Stuffing your jacket into the overhead
bin I see the hole in center of the back.