When You Think You’re the Only One, You Are

“… people I thought were family, who somehow make my grief about them…”


For every birthday, there is a deathday: 
 a day marked on secret calendars, 
 calendars written in indigo-Coptic, 
 grand, terrible, and wonderful, but unreadable. 
  And we're the only ones who have it. 

For every story, there is a central thread: 
 a meaning, and a delineation, 
 clear only after seeing the whole, 
 tying everything together, ineffably. 
  We cannot speak what speaks so loudly to us. 

Living within walls we did not build, 
 but which, rather built us; 
 understanding none of it, other than that 
 we are inside the walls, and all others, outside. 

When you think you're the only one, you are; 
 when you do not think you are, you are not. 

Bereavement is both 
 the ultimate reality, and 
 the strongest illusion; 
 and both parts of this paradox 
 are true

It was the one-year anniversary of someone I knew’s passing two days ago. Her roommate, who had taken tireless, personal care of her friend through the final rough years of her life, reached out with a card to her late friend’s son. HIs response was lengthy and angry, and included the quote at the top of this piece.

We all have our ways of dealing with grief, and I’m no expert. I’m not quite sure what a grief expert looks like, now that I think of it. Someone who has been through a lot of it? Someone who has seen a lot of people go through it? Someone who has read studies about people who go through it?

None of those seem like enough to be an expert, and who would want to be, anyway?

Reading his response, it evidently never occurred to him that his mother’s roommate might also be grieving; from his perspective, all the grief was his, literally by birthright. He never saw the raw, daily manifestation of his mother’s illness, and what it took for her roommate to take care of her, and his mother certainly never told him. So I could sort of understand.

Many of us hesitate to say much of anything to the grieving besides a few mumbled cliches, because we know grieving people can get as angry as they want at anyone, and many will. There really is no “moral high ground” when it comes to grief, because there is no high ground at all.

When we feel like we are the only one suffering a loss, we really are alone, for nothing anyone else could feel, or say, or do, has any meaning to us. When we feel like others share a form of our grief, however different their experience was, we are not alone, even if we don’t get to talk to them about it. It is a paradox, but as I said in the poem above, it appears to be true, no matter how paradoxical it is.


Have you experienced the anger of the grieving? Was it yours, or theirs? Does any of this make sense to you?

interchange

She asked me why I spoke like rain 
 that falls in tropics, unobserved, 
 and if I knew the reason why 
 dessert is always lastly served, 

And I said "I have no idea. 
 And no. At home, I eat pie first, 
 and if I'm hungry, still, eat more, 
 or maybe sit and slake my thirst." 

She shook her head in sad regard, 
 and said, "You are a mellophone." 
 I knew quite well just what she meant: 
 a mobile horn or baritone, 

Who specializes in off-beats. 
 I thought then of her piercing gaze, 
 and said, "And you're a golo spear." 
 She smiled broadly, quite unfazed, 

And said. "How often have you used 
 that metaphor? It seems quite odd." 
 And I said, "Never." "All the same," 
 she spoke, "It feels like pasquinade."

And so it was. And so it is: 
 my imitation of a mind 
 that can't be captured anywhere,
 or anywhere that I can find

Farm and Away

There’s something both beautiful and sad about farms.

Some of the beauty comes in the interaction farmers have with the land. Even though technology develops and changes over time, the relationship of farmers to the land itself does not. “The land” here means not only the soil, but the seasons, moisture, wind, and any number of other variables we could call “natural”.

Nobody who farms for a living thinks human beings have “conquered” nature, because, in any given year, at any given point, nature can take it all away. No one who farms believes they have it all figured out.

Farmers are trying to preserve the land, not just because it is their livelihood, but because it is a duty. The land may turn on them for periods of time, in its unpredictability, but farmers never turn on the land.

Farming is seasonal, and seasons measure time. Part of the sadness of a farm is the passing of time, and the memory of those who’ve served that particular land.

The passing of time is an “everywhere” thing, of course: in cities and other busy places, we can cover much of that up with bustle and newness. When you’ve seen the same farmer working fields for forty years and realize one day he’s not there anymore, there is no missing it.


I grew up in Florida: not the part you’ve ever heard of, but that other part. We had the beach and we had the Gulf (of Mexico), but we also had farms. And cinder block. Florida in the 1960’s was largely comprised of cinder block: the houses, the stores, the restaurants.

I would say, “you had to be there” to picture it, but you didn’t, because… cinder blocks.



My best friend’s grandfather had a farm about thirty miles from where we grew up. Sometimes I would tag along on visits. They lived in a cinder block house, with a cinder block shed, and what seemed to me to be an enormous tractor parked in the yard. By today’s standards it would be more like the size of an ATV, but I was young.

When my friend’s grandfather passed away suddenly, the farm changed hands. I have driven by that place a handful of times in the thirty years since, and it hits differently than other memories. It’s like farmers and the land become one, and their inevitable separation seems that much sadder.


When I had to travel out of town recently, I drove largely through farm country. I live in Georgia, which means if I’m trying to get anywhere in anything like a timely manner, task one is to avoid Atlanta at all costs. So I took a circuitous route through the country, and enjoyed it immensely, as I love just driving through countryside.

Fairly near where we live is a large solar farm; it is a place where urban and rural sensibilities seem to coalesce. I only comment on that because there are very few places in modern life where that can be truly said. Our election maps look suspiciously like population density maps, which makes me think that urban versus rural ways of looking at the world may be more fundamentally different than people would have us believe.

At one time in my life, living out in the country was a dream of mine; having no practical skills of any kind whatsoever kind of disqualifies one from the farming life. Since I’m not crazy about being in crowds, I’ve spent almost my entire adult life living in suburban areas on the edge of rural ones, belonging to neither world, but accepting, and even admiring, both.

Do you have a secret desire to do something you are completely unqualified to do?


For more “Nano Poblano” goodness, click here.

crumpled

there is a crumpled kind of peace 
we litter across dusty floors: 
half-done or quick-discarded things 
we couldn't shape or form to taste. 

and really, what is all of this? 
the photo and the blog make right 
our true, private imbalances: 
we none of us are hollywood, 

and that includes real hollywood. 
for image lies, but with great force: 
and happy accidents are those 
arranged the best to leave no trace 

of all of our great artifice. 
we throw away so rapidly 
each new impression, person, friend, 
then snatch at air, and call that life. 

so where, you ask, is crumpled peace?
it acceptance of the flaws 
not just of ours, but most of theirs: 
for life is messy-glorious, 

half-colored pictures, drawn in haste -- 
the dreams we see but can't make real -- 
the wishes stronger than the sun 
we orbit but cannot approach.

This was a 12-minute timed write. For more from other NanoPoblano bloggers, click here.

“…things no one else can see.”

The effort made, the distance spanned 
In hope of giving some relief: 
  We cannot wear another's grief, 
  Nor hold their times within our hand. 

Though selfishness be rightly banned, 
And our tales placed within a sheaf, 
  We cannot wear another's grief, 
  Nor hold their times within our hand. 

That love was once, and ever is, 
Like Autumn falls upon the mind 
That struggles deaf, and dumb, and blind  
To where we find what never is -- 

It isn't good or great or grand, 
A touch like chill and wind-blown leaf: 
  We cannot wear another's grief, 
  Nor hold their times within our hand. 

Starting out, we are gaining in powers, and we come to feel ownership: of the world, of life, of ourselves.

The rest of our years are spent learning to let go of all of that.

Our significance comes from our goodness, not our greatness. It does not matter that our names our not known by millions, if our good deeds, or good hearts, are known to a few. If our names were known by millions, it wouldn’t meant that we were. Known, that is.

Grief and sorrow are inevitable, because we are born with an innate sense of permanence, a that is a thing this life does not offer. There are many types of loss, and some of those go beyond any place words can travel.


When someone we love is gone, we suddenly realize just how stark the limits of imagination are. Reminiscing can recreate feelings, but it cannot recreate actual people.


I accompanied the two of them to the cemetery: a dark-haired young mother and her fair-haired four-year old son. They stood by her late husband’s grave almost perfectly still, the only motion being the light wind moving their hair.

I was standing off at a distance.

I was struck by the boy, who is a classmate of my granddaughter’s. I’ve seen him a handful of times this school year, and never known him to be still, even for a second. But his every movement on this occasion mirrored those of his mother.

His mother, who is hairdressing client of my daughter’s, held her son’s hand and seemed to be seeing something there I could not see.


Grief is always composed of things no one else can see.


(Other posts from this month’s community blog posting group.)

Scattegoria

Being lost is scary; exploring is exciting. Whether we are doing one, the other, or both at any given time is a matter of perspective.


I gave my cat a violin 
That she could learn to play; 
She turned away in silence, so -  
Perhaps some other day?

If you’ve ever had your heart broken, chances are it still is.


I wish that I was Superman 
So strong and so bright-suited... 
Although it might get tiring 
To always be

Rebooted

Advising people to get over grief is like telling them they should learn to breathe water.


Love me in the morning-time, 
Love me in the evening, 
Love me in the afternoon, 
And when I'm lost and dreaming -- 

Love me like you mean to love 
Ever intensifying; 
And I will love you, too, out past 
Mere things like dying

(For more posts that are hopefully less scattered, see this roster of Nano Poblano participants.)

Timed Write in Blank Verse

In autumn, wind would shake the flowing trees, 
And we would turn to homework and to hope; 
Our backpacks on our stronger shoulders draped 
Through slippery and colder days and hours

Into the halls that echoed with the din 
Of morning greetings; scents of girl's perfume  
As down fluorescent hallways we would stream, 
Seeing none, yet hoping to be seen. 

And something called a "bell" would ring, although 
It was more like a firehouse alarm: 
We sank into our desks, already lost, 
Defeated by the day before it'd start, 

The bleariness of youth, still charging on. 
A type of haunted-ness under those lights, 
-- Maybe our Halloweens all started there! -- 
That so much life could feel so lost and dead. 

Yet hope, I said, was what we used for fuel: 
And so we did, at lunch or back in halls 
Where conversations spoke of our real hopes 
Whether of love or comic-books or sports 

Or maybe some of each of them. For we 
Took autumn and its rain and all its weight 
On that spare shoulder each of us had kept 
For when we could our own desires allow 

The space to run, out past the path and leaves, 
Out past the walls and classes to the fields 
Where we were meant to play, were meant to be 
And that we'd find one day, when we got out.

(10 minutes. For more Nano Poblano goodness, click here.)

In The Storm of Comparison

I have had problems with envy throughout my life. Because I was born an ugly child, I’ve always envied good-looking people. In fact, I still do, even though I married into a family full of them. Envy, of course, is born of comparison, and our ability to make comparisons is often imperfect and distorted.

When you are an ugly child, people around you will let you know, as children typically comment immediately on anything that seems unusual to them. This comes from lack of empathy and perspective, of course, but we all know adults who behave the same way, commenting on people or to people about whatever they think needs fixing.

In case you don’t know, ugliness is a situation many feel needs remedying, and fast.

As an early adolescent things only got worse, as my desire to not be seen as unattractive had grown considerably. The winds of pubescence blow hard, and they blew me very close to suicide. Fortunately, I found a few lights on shore to help steer me away, people who seemed to love me in spite of my rather manifest flaws.

One other thing that helped, in my later teens, was realizing I wasn’t the only one. I got to know people who envied me, not for my looks, obviously, but for other things I could do. I came to realize that envy was a kind of weird one-way comparison where we pick out what we want to focus on and ignore everything else that might lead to more qualified or nuanced conclusions. None of us are all good or all bad.


Yesterday, I went to see my nine-year old grandson compete in his first archery tournament, which he won, by the way. As he was walking out to receive his medal, the group of junior high and high school girls sitting behind us were saying things like, “Oh my God, he’s so cute!” and “Look at him!”

I’m glad for him that he gets that life to experience, and not the one I had, but the nine-year-old still inside me is envious. What I wouldn’t have given to hear that even once.


When this subject come up, people sometimes ask me if I still think of myself as ugly. The honest answer is, “yes”, but the beautiful woman I share a marriage with begs to disagree. She does wear pretty thick glasses these days, though.

The concepts of “beauty” and “ugliness”, I’ve come to think, are kind of like music: they don’t inherently mean anything, but they sure feel like they do.


This post is part of Nano Poblano 2022. Click here to experience the madness!

Where Does Love Go

“Where does love go when it’s gone?”

‘Wherever it came from.”


A message sent from Florida 
Where you and I were once... you know... 
I guess your reminiscing, since 
It seems that time, and wine, have flowed 

Into the veins you call your life. 
I say I hope I find you well, 
Then slowly you unfold a tale  
Of loss and choice, of ebb and swell -- 
 
And I see years long past remain 
Within each of us, differently. 
I seek to understand, because 
However things have come to be 

I do not, could not, wish you ill. 
You were my lover, are my friend, 
And I wish you the happiness 
Far fewer know than now pretend. 

For each of us, and all of us, 
There's nothing simple, now or then: 
There's myriads within each heart, 
Both what we are and what we've been.


When a person writes in the volume that I’ve written, it’s easy to see patterns. That’s a nice way of saying I write the same things over and over.

When I started writing poetry here, I spent much of the first few years reliving old relationships. Part of it was to better understand myself, but an equally important part of it was trying to understand better the women I had been involved with, something I don’t think I’d done a very good job of at the time.

Of course, I realized the obvious things, looking back. As a younger man, I may have been overly focused on the physical aspects of the relationship, for instance, or at least, focused to such a degree that I let other parts of relationships flounder. I also realized that being selfish comes pretty natural to me: I never had to read an article or watch a YouTube video to learn how to do it.

In addition, there was this: girls often find early that boys don’t always treat girls like, well, human beings. This tendency in us guys is very pronounced, and it is not always as ill-intentioned and baneful as it can be. I was interested in working through why I struggled to see women as just other people, then using that knowledge to better understand the actual women I had dated.

Eventually, life strips away the pretense and the fantasy in any relationship that is carried on long enough; all too frequently, then, people come to resent the other person for not being what they never were. Love is less about embracing fantasies than respecting and valuing realities.


When my ex girlfriend in the poem above messaged me, it was to talk about a breakup she had recently been through. The reasons she had broken up with him were perfectly understandable, at least to me, but I could see her struggling with the notion that it had in some way been unrealistic perfectionism on her part that had ended the relationship.

All I could think to say was, if regret could be converted to energy, it would be the ultimate renewable energy source.

“Where does love go when it’s gone?” she asked me.

“Wherever it came from,” I said. “Or to wherever it is going next.”