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The End of Words

The massacre of babies with bushmasters

are words that shame the lips, stun the tongue into silence,

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end words,

send language,

or even the very idea

of language,

raining down

into the holy place

inside the dark forever of

a parent’s soul,

forever divided

between this and that,

then and now,

a rupture so wide and deep

that words

drop into the void.

How can you speak

when you hear such words?

Can you ask questions?

Who is at war with

whom?

How does that sorrow

break?

What does it take to make

the whole world

tremble?

And what of the millions

who only buy more bushmasters

in the wake of those words?

Where are the words that can speak of that?

Those words even silence the rain.

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On the lighter side: Molly Talks in June Cotner’s “Dog Blessings”

I’m taking a break from the election (Please!  Please!  When will it be over?) to announce that my poem immortalizing my beloved pooch, Molly, has just been published in June Cotner’s DOG BLESSINGS. See the poem below, and here’s the link to June’s website where you can buy the book and read bios of all the contributors. (You can also get the book in the usual other places.) This little book is a sweet compilation of “Poem’s, Prose, and Prayers Celebrating Our Relationship with Dogs.” Divided into sections including “A Dog’s World,” “Puppies,” “Our Bond,” “Devotion,” “Aging Gracefully,” “Partings,” “Reflections,” and “Prayer’s, Blessings, and Inspiration,” the book includes work by wonderful dog loving poets from all over the country. A great gift for a dog lover…. Really!  

Below left: This serious (although very cute) dog posing with the book is June’s.  

Below right:  Whereas that extraordinary dog below is Molly and her friend Huddie. (Molly’s the chocolate)

 

This very cute dog posing with the book is June's 

 

WHAT? YOUR DOG DOESN’T TALK?

Mine does. Mine talks a blue streak.

Has a full English vocabulary, colloquial and formal,

uses simple and complex sentences,

and muscular prose,

accompanied by a full range of gestures, tricks and expressions.

Grammatically iffy sometimes, but always deeply felt.

A fine sprinkling of Italian and Yiddish, too.

Here is a sampling:

·      Welcome to our house. I’m Miss Molly. See. It says so on my chair.

·      Mom, can you believe it? This guy won’t get out of the car. He thinks I look fierce. Ha. Ha. Ha.

·      I prefer THIS chaise lounge (chair, rug, hole) right now, and if I turn around three times first, it’ll be even more perfect. Ain’t life grand?

·      I’m really, REALLY sorry, Mom. I didn’t feel well.

·      Move over, would you? And by the way, I was here first.

·      I’ll come when you show me the goods.

·      Okay then, if I lie down and put my face on the floor between my paws, will you PLEASE give me some?

·      Are you upset, Mom? Here. Let me love you . . . put my head on your thigh . . . lick your face . . . rub your nose . . . put my paws around your neck . . . make you laugh with a brilliant antic. Or we can just sit here, if you want.

·      Are you talking AGAIN about what a great dog I am? Talk on, and I’ll listen and thump.

·      Ummmm. Get a load of these lilacs . . . carrion . . . goose (horse, dog, rabbit) poop . . . new mown grass . . . fish . . . birds . . . air . . . the weird smell in the hallway. Life is delicious, and smells SOOOOOO great.

·      Okay. If I can’t come, I’ll just wait here until you get home.

·      Oooooh! I just LOVE it when you brush me . . . tickle my ears . . . rub my belly . . . my hind quarters . . . that place on my back . . . no, not there! THERE!

·      Ahhhhhhh! This is the life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walking with Andrea when grief shows up

Sometimes chance is weird but kind,

as when I am walking with Andrea by chance,

and grief escapes from the home,

and sneaks up behind

me, an old woman with milky eyes,

limbs stiff with years,

hobbles to my back door unannounced,

dragging her bag of gruesome memories

clamping her crooked fingers

round my neck

popping the cork of my unruly mouth:

MY GOD, THAT BOY LOOKS JUST LIKE–

Abort, abort.

After all these years I know just what not to do,

when grief shows up out of the blue

eyes of a little boy laughing,

doppelganger in a stroller,

not fall at his feet

not touch his face

not put my lips to his cheek

not whisper my son’s name and weep.

Better this hovering young mother think me rude

than to finish my unfinished sentence.

Better let her live innocent as snow

than tell her hair can turn to straw

a toddler’s eyes can go dark

death can come

even to a boy like that

and reincarnate fifteen years later in a boy like that,

and have to say I’m sorry to ruin your day

when I’m not,

not really.

Sometimes chance is weird but kind,

as when by chance I am walking with Andrea,

whose son happens to lie next to mine,

grave companions, you might say

clean picked bones shaped like two little boys,

tiny metacarpals touching,

tibias, fibulas,

sacral bones lying still

in their adjacent tombs, beneath their sacred marble stones.

Sometimes chance is weird but kind,

as when Andrea takes my hand,

leads me away, a bewildered child,

and grief hobbles along behind us, trying to keep up.

Larry would have been thirty-one, Andrea whispers,

Michael would have been eighteen, I say.

Toddlers into men,

even the gods of imagination cannot make that leap.

I do not tell Andrea that sometimes

the gods of imagination animate our boys,

and they rise from the dead and live

pink-cheeked to play

next to the tree in the sunlight,

no affront to the blue sky,

grass, insects

even the birds.

Sometimes I think I liked it better

when grief was young and potent,

weighed four thousand pounds,

screamed and screeched like a carnival troll,

slashed at my skin and cells with its long claws,

hissed like the villain in a silent movie.

At least I knew where grief was then,

It didn’t shuffle and creep up behind me

like an old woman with clouded eyes

begging for attention and pity

with her bag of hoary stuff–

her milky tubes,

pumping machines,

white coats

switching eyes

More guns, more death, more grief

Every day now, it seems, we have to eat more of the poisonous fruit that has grown out of the election and re-election of George Bush. Yesterday’s 5 to 4 decision by the Roberts Supreme Court endorsed a so-called “personal right to own guns,” and overturned precedent of seventy years. What happened to Roberts and Alito’s promises during their confirmation hearings that they would honor precedent whenever possible? We can’t have “activist” judges, conservatives scream.

The net effect will be more guns, more death, and more grief. More mothers and fathers will suffer unspeakably over the tragic and unnecessary deaths of their children. More sisters will grieve over brothers. More brothers will weep over sisters. More grandmothers and fathers will have to bear watching their children endure the worst possible thing that could happen to them. Perhaps the honorable Justices who think there should be MORE guns in this society and not fewer guns would like to provide funds for grief counseling for the victims of their decision, one which completely defies decency, reason, and common sense. Oh, I forgot, Congress provides funds.

According to Adam Liptak’s news analysis in today’s NY Times, the precedent in this case was a 1939 decision in which the Court, in United States v. Miller, upheld a federal prosecution for transporting a sawed-off shotgun. A Federal District Court had ruled that the provision of the National Firearms Act the Miller defendants were accused of violating was barred by the Second Amendment, but the Supreme court disagreed and reinstated the indictment. This was followed by decades and decades which a majority of “courts and commentators regarded the Miller decision as having rejected the individual-right interpretation of the Second Amendment.

The court’s slim decision is yet another in a long line of devastating and destructive decisions that have followed from the stacking of the Court with conservatives. Here’s NPR’s Nina Totenberg, writing a year ago, about this matter.

“For conservatives, this term was pretty close to the best of times, and for liberals, it was pretty close to the worst of times. Although Roberts and Alito both promised at their confirmation hearings to honor precedent whenever possible, in their first full term together, they effectively reversed a number of key precedents. In each case, it was by a 5-to-4 vote.”

And the trend has only escalated during this current term.

During the arguments the appallingly arrogant and seriously misguided Justice Antonin Scalia, the darling of the right, parsed the meaning of the words “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Justice Scalia argued that “the prefatory statement of purpose should not be interpreted to limit the meaning of what is called the operative clause.” His word-parsing, semantic argument is not unlike the argument over the placement of the comma in the clause that has been going on for some time now, and which, for all I know, may even be part of the decision. How do we argue semantics over common sense? That’s what I want to know. The “liberal” Justice Stevens argued more globally and sensibly that the majority’s understanding of the Miller decision was not only “simply wrong but reflected a lack of respect for the well-settled views of all our predecessors on the court, and for the rule of law itself,” and was “based on a strained and unpersuasive reading of the Second Amendment.”

As the kids say, “Whatever.”

The net effect will be more guns, more death, more grief.

I so well remember a conversation I had back in 2004 with a young woman who said she was going to vote for George Bush, because he would keep us safe. I decided not to address the “safety” argument, and pointed out that the reelection of George Bush would lead to the overturn of Roe v. Wade, which I knew she cared about, and many other laws that she counted on without even realizing it. She looked at me and shrugged, “Never happen.” Well, it IS happening, and it will continue to happen…

And it is yet another reason to support Barack Obama for President. John McCain comes right out and says he will continue to appoint conservative Justices like Scalia and Alito and Roberts to the Supreme Court. We cannot and SHOULD NOT just shrug that off, we should take John McCain at his word. Here’s yet another case of the unquestioning acceptance and operational reality of “doublethink” in this country. WHO are the “activist” judges?

Let’s do some real straight talking. If John McCain is elected, we can look forward to even more poisonous decisions by the Supreme Court, with majorities that will not be so slim.

Immersed in the language of our dissolving country

their cronies

and the poor

American landscape

disappearing in the rockets and red glare,

battle hymns of them and us.

Who are these people who

hang unbroken in creation

stimulate their Jesus action figures

steamrolled by flat-out hucksters

stupefied by the complex,

stream across the detritus of America

abrogate treaties, inform parades

circumnavigate the globe with their

misbegotten little wars,

sell any crapola like Good News,

stir any Orwellian double talk into their soup,

eat any fiction they find strewn across the open plains,

while little girls spread their legs

and people die without good reason

and we eat the poisonous fruit.

What is human without a microphone?

To which country did my grandfather Abraham come,

carrying his clothes on his back?

Occasional Poetry

What the Doctor Said

by Raymond Carver

He said it doesn’t look good
he said it looks bad in fact real bad
he said I counted thirty-two of them on one lung before
I quit counting them
I said I’m glad I wouldn’t want to know
about any more being there than that
he said are you a religious man do you kneel down
in forest groves and let yourself ask for help
when you come to a waterfall
mist blowing against your face and arms
do you stop and ask for understanding at those moments
I said not yet but I intend to start today
he said I’m real sorry he said
I wish I had some other kind of news to give you
I said Amen and he said something else
I didn’t catch and not knowing what else to do
and not wanting him to have to repeat it
and me to have to fully digest it
I just looked at him
for a minute and he looked back it was then
I jumped up and shook hands with this man who’d just given me
something no one else on earth had ever given me
I may have even thanked him habit being so strong


The Inoculation Effect of Big Time Grief

I’ve been thinking for a very long time about the inoculation effect of grief. This is a term I believe has relevance to the experience of “high” grief, or as I call it in my novel “big time grief.” I’ve never read or heard anyone use the term. Here’s the general definition from the Oxford:

Inoculate: The deliberate introduction into the body of a micro-organism, especially in order to induce immunity to a disease; vaccination.

What does this have to do with grief? Here’s what. I think of the pain I suffered during my bereavement almost as a kind of inoculation against future pain. Not that I can no longer feel anything, just that I can handle it now. It seems to me that I became aware of this effect after quite a lot of time had passed, and I do think one has to have done the grief work in order to feel the effect, but the truth is, no matter what trauma I’ve faced–and there have been a few since my son died–I’ve always kept myself on a relatively even keel, emotionally. I’ve consoled myself by thinking that nothing could be as devastating as what I’ve already been through. What could? If I survived that, I can survive anything. I mentioned this notion to the group of bereaved folks I wrote with last night, and I saw recognition in many of their faces. Of course, we wish we had our children back, but life only goes one way and we are forced to learn those lessons that are given to us. I wonder if anyone else has felt that serious grief can inoculate us, so that we are able to face whatever else lies ahead.

Initially, a few of the bereaved parents in the group last night seemed somewhat resistant to the idea of writing as a way to help us explore, understand, and express our inner worlds, especially when I said I had written a novel. One man asked “Is your novel fiction or non-fiction?” I explained that all novels are fiction, and he said, “But this is REAL LIFE.”

Meaning, what can YOU–a fiction writer–possibly know about the REAL pain I’m feeling?

I explained that I too had lost a child, and that my novel had been inspired by the experience. That seemed to appease him, and I didn’t feel the need to explain that I would be employing exercises that used fictional techniques. Once I told him that I too had lost a child, he seemed willing to trust me. I was a member of the club that no one wants to belong to. I so well remember the feeling of being resentful, even suspicious of anyone who hadn’t lost a child, who hadn’t been where I was but would presume to tell me how to feel, what to do, how to act.

I want to share with readers a poem the group last night wrote. The group’s thoughts are listed in no particular order. They composed this poem after I read them a wonderful list poem by Elaine Equi called “Things to Do in the Bible” and we then composed:

Things to Do When You Lose a Child:

Cry – Get Mad – Yell at God – Cry – Pray – Yell at God – Try to Breathe – Freeze and shut down – Pray for help – Find your center – Look within for wisdom – Count your blessings – Comfort a wife – Cry – Bang the Steering Wheel – Cry Cry Cry – Find Spirituality – Figure out how to survive – Talk talk talk – Scream and swear at God – Listen for his voice – Fight with your husband – Get Back to Work- Honor His Memory – Resent everyone- Celebrate his life – Pray – Give to Others – Light a Candle – Hate Life – Cry – Look at Pictures – Eat – Cry – Spend time with a husband – Cry – Talk to friends – Get Help – Cry – Scream – Take a bath – Hug a friend – Swim a mile – Try to sleep – Walk in the woods – Eat your heart out – Go to Bed – Not get dressed – Rage at the moon – Hate everyone – Hate God – Swim upstream – Ignore your living children- Feel guilty – Write a book

The last one was mine, of course. Not everyone can write a book, obviously. But writing CAN be therapeutic, I’m convinced of it. Here’s a poem I composed at some point, among the first semi-coherent writings I managed. I think it gives a good idea of how grief feels. Or at least how my grief felt. A version of this poem appears in Saving Elijah.

I am a clobbered egg
ex orb exploded
white shard in your eye
it hurts.
There there.
This sweet yellow yolk
rots now,
threaded with bloodeous black,
glutinous maximus,
sweet rot drips
all over the imported linen,
sticky on the gold rimmed China,
soiled with the grotesque muck
of my child’s grave.
There with my child, so cold.
I sweat this stuff in your face,
all placid and complacent as a baby’s toes.
I yield up nothing you want.
No angel wings,
No down for your bed,
No meat.