taking some liberties

Tuesday November 5

November at UDM is a month laced with fatigue, teaching and learning, working at teaching and working at learning, they are the hammer and the anvil on which we forge a university. This November again, and perhaps more than ordinarily, signs of fatigue seem to show themselves a lot — stories of deaths, wounds in the loves of our lives, and frustrations that need a stronger word than that to describe them. It’s a demanding time in a demanding year.

Perhaps that’s why I decided to take some liberties and go autobiographical with today’s poem. My neice Terri writes poetry; and she grew up wildly in love with her grandmother. My mom died at 102 in 2005 and Terri wrote about it, one of a series of poems about grandma.

Posted with affection and respect for the women and men with whom I live and work. Particularly respect for our griefs and our honorable fatigue.


john sj
The Living

It’s strange the things people say
after a death, crooked attempts
to comfort. Things like, “Oh,

well she was old. She had a long life.”
or “She was ready to go.” One woman
even said, her hand resting on my shoulder

“Her death was easy; that
should make you happy.”
Happy. Easy. Words I never

put together with death, words I still
can’t quite get my arms around
no matter my wingspan.

And I think, Oh, this stumbling
over language as if it were new,
despite a familiarity with time,

the exhaustion and experience
of years, despite consideration of death,
having greeted that recognizable face before.

It is easy to forget, tangled
in words of comfort,
that the dead

are dead; they do not feel
the pain of departing,
do not need to be consoled.

It is those who are left
who know the burden of sad and hard,
bowed low beneath the weight of loss.

My son will never know her. He will never
understand why when he glares, shoulders
angled back and jaw thrust out

stubborn like her, belligerent and
ready for a fight, I, a fighter too,
can only cry and hold him close.

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