Tonight, as I went on a relatively futile search for words of my own to share, I found some words by others I am going to borrow tonight. These are not easy poems because they name grief quite well, and in that have offered me comfort. All three of them were new to me. The first is by Taylor Mali called “My Deepest Condiments.”
I send you my deepest condiments
was in no way what my old friend
meant to say or write or send
the night she penned a note to me
one week after my father died.
Not condolences, or sentiments,
she sent me her deepest condiments
instead, as if the dead have need
of relish, mustard, and ketchup
on the other side.
O, the word made me laugh
so hard out loud it hurt!
So wonderfully absurd,
and such a sweet relief
at a time when it seemed
only grief was allowed in
after my father’s death,
sweet and simple laughter,
which is nothing more than
breath from so far deep inside
it often brings up with it tears.
And so I laughed and laughed
until my sides were sore.
And later still, I even cried
a little more.
Laughter which “which is nothing more than breath from so far deep inside it often brings up with it tears.” Wow. Breathe deep the breath of God. . . .
The second is “The Sadness of Clothes” by Emily Fragos, which makes me think of how Ginger made a point of sharing some of my mother’s clothes with her friends.
When someone dies, the clothes are so sad. They have outlived
their usefulness and cannot get warm and full.
You talk to the clothes and explain that he is not coming back
as when he showed up immaculately dressed in slacks and plaid
and had that beautiful smile on and you’d talk.
You’d go to get something and come back and he’d be gone.
You explain death to the clothes like that dream.
You tell them how much you miss the spouse
and how much you miss the pet with its little winter sweater.
You tell the worn raincoat that if you talk about it,
you will finally let grief out. The ancients etched the words
for battle and victory onto their shields and then they went out
and fought to the last breath. Words have that kind of power
you remind the clothes that remain in the drawer, arms
folded across the chest, or slung across the backs of chairs,
or hanging inside the dark closet. Do with us what you will,
they faintly sigh, as you close the door on them.
He is gone and no one can tell us where.
The last one is “The Needs of the Many” by Brendan Constantine.
On the days when we wept—
and they were many—we did it
over the sound of a television
or radio, or the many engines
of the sky. It was rarely so quiet
we could hear just our sadness,
the smallness of it
that is merely the sound of wind
and water between the many pages
of the lungs. Many afternoons
we left the house still crying
and drove to a café or the movies,
or back to the hospital where we sat
dumb under the many eyes
of Paul Klee. There were many
umbrellas, days when it refused
to rain, cups of tea ignored. We
washed them all in the sink,
dry eyed. It’s been a while,
we’re cried out. We collect pauses
and have taken to reading actual
books again. We go through them
like yellow lights, like tunnels
or reunions, we forget which;
the older you are the more similes,
the more pangs per hour. Indeed,
this is how we break one hour into
many, how healing wounds time
in return. And though we know
there will always be crying to do,
just as there’s always that song,
always a leaf somewhere in the car,
this may be the only sweetness left,
to have a few griefs we cherish
against the others, which are many.
“There will always be crying to do, just as there’s always a song. . . .” I think I’ll sleep on that one.