This is a poem that I wrote in 2015 or before. It was previously posted here and on everything2.com. I just read a blog where two hockey dads are dead of covid-19. The author is writing about grief. I wrote this when I was struggling with grief and how to really let it in.
grief is an ox that stands in the room with me and overshadows everything
no grief is a plow pulled by an ox I try to guide it in the furrows
no grief is the heavy ground the plow turns it the ox pulls I guide it in the furrows
no I am grieving I let it be close I don’t push it in to an ox in to a plow in to the earth I let it in I grieve
all you have to do is be quiet near the puddles or a pond
walk there very very quietly
in the spring they are singing to each other calling a symphony of longing and joy and they don’t hear me when I walk very quietly at the end of the world
as a child my father teaches me to catch frogs
very quietly approach the pond or puddle
if the frog hears you it will duck under water you will only see a ripple spreading out
or it will hop into the woods and hide
my father would occasionally use frogs as bait to catch northern pike a live frog on a hook frogs scream when you stick a hook through their back
I hope they go into shock then and don’t feel much
one we’d seen this my cousins and my sister and I when my father got his fishing rod we’d run through the woods yelling “Hide the frogs, hide the frogs!” and we would catch any frog that was dumb enough not to hide and quickly set it in the woods to hide it from my father
we would check the puddles, too feeling in the brownish muck to make sure no frog was hidden in the shallow puddle come out, you must go in the woods to survive
to catch the smart ones normally we would tiptoe to the puddle hoping a frog was facing the other way if they saw us, they were gone
slowly bend down, hand out behind the frog reach gently grab just above the back legs not too hard, don’t squish it
I was under ten on a canoe trip when I run to my father “A frog! A frog! The biggest frog I’ve seen! Papa, come help!” My father comes. An enormous frog is beside the canoe. “Catch it.” says my father. “Please! You catch it!” I beg. My father creeps up on the frog. His hand moves out slowly. He grabs the frog, who tries to jump and croaks, a bass, huge mouth. “It’s a young bullfrog,” says my father. “It will get even bigger.” He hands it to me. I take it carefully, shaking a little. “We could eat it’s legs.” “NO!” I say. I just want to hold it for a minute. I turn it over and gently stroke it’s throat. The frog goes limp, mesmerized. I set it down gently, right side up, near the water. I squat by the frog and wait. I am waiting for it to wake up. The frog is so beautiful. I wait until it wakes up and returns home.
After my mother died I really struggled, partly because I was in the midst of a divorce and felt like a massive failure. I did not like myself. But I kept thinking about my mother and how much she hid: and eventually I thought, you know, I love all of my mother. Even the stuff she hid. If she is lovable then so am I.
What is lovable in your parent? And would you miss her/him if she/he were truly gone?
That is the hard thing for me, that I couldn’t think about that until she was dead. With my sister, I thought about it before she died and changed how I behaved and let her know when I disagreed with her. Even though she had cancer.
Isn’t the greatest gift we can give each other loving honesty? I love you and I disagree with you and I am not going to do what you want just because you (are my mother/are my father/have cancer/have emphysema/want it/are dying). Isn’t the greatest gift to be ourselves and take the flack for it?
Cucumber love is a poem I wrote more then ten years ago about dropping the exoskeleton that we wear for society’s and our family’s approval. It takes courage. You can drop a little piece at a time and let them get used to it. And yes, some people may reject you for good. That is their choice. But you have to ask yourself then, did they ever really love you or did they only love to control you?
They say they love you And they do
One day you find yourself Wearing a construct An exoskeleton Awkward You can move See out
You built it slowly over years Because that’s what you were told to do You wanted to be loved It made you feel safe
There is praise Or at least pressure to keep it on You may not have known it was there And slowly begin to feel Who you really are Awaken to the shell
One day you slip out
They are still saying how much they love you To the empty construct
You watch bemused For a while
You say “That isn’t me.” “Of course it is,” they say
“I’m over here,” you say
Shock and outrage “That’s not you! You’ve changed, you’re depressed Confused, manic, gone out of your mind!” Off the deep end
You might even go back in to the construct for a little while
But now you’ve tasted freedom You won’t be able to stand it for long You will be out soon
Some people will see you as you really are
Some people will tell you they still love you But as they say it to the construct They act as if you’re still wearing it They still think you love cucumbers Though you ate that dish once to be polite They hold the construct in their minds Even after you’ve destroyed it And behave the same as they ever did
Why are the roses caged, you ask? What did they do? Nothing, they are being protected. I found that rose and transplanted it years ago, but our deer eat the buds every year. This is the first time that it has bloomed in the 21 years I have lived in this hours. Isn’t it beautiful?
I am listening to this:
I wrote this poem today. This is one of the poems where I have no idea where it will go when I start writing it. I start writing about judgement and it never ever goes where I expect. The poems go where I want to go in my deepest heart, in my soul. I am never where the poem is, the poems show me the way….. Then I try to go there. And it can take years….
I am being judged and watched
I have no issue with the Beloved
it’s the humans I don’t like
I twist people’s words but not with malice
when the antibodies are up it is hard to communicate hard to explain it is hard just to survive and I might be focused on survival first and comforting the people around me second
can you blame me?
how near to death have you passed? and how often?
first pneumonia heart rate 135 when I stood up
my doctor and I could not understand it
my doctor partners thought I was lying in 2003
second pneumonia after my sister’s death which was bad enough but the legal morass that she had set up with her daughter as the center
pitting me and her daughter’s birth father and my father against all the PhDs in the maternal family smart, smart, smart yet emotionally stupid
my niece is not an inheritance to be passed to whom my sister wants
she reluctantly came home and the myth endures that this is an injustice
third pneumonia one year after I find my father dead triggered by grief and the outdated will and the mess he leaves
and I don’t even get sued about the will for another year
be sure whatever you do do you’re careful who lasers your hoohoo vaginal rejuvenation should not be self done by the patient the person who fires the laser should having training and not just in tasers hoohoo lasers are selling like hotcakes making money for yahoos who clambake no yahoo should do do your hoohoo else you and your honey will boohoo
Nothing is lost without something else being gained. When you put a bucket in the water and pull it up, no hole is left. The water equilibrates. The water rushes in to the new hole and there is swirling and chaos for a bit and then you can’t tell.
I took coffee in to my yard yesterday morning. I didn’t feel like eating much for the two days before that. I felt more like drinking alcohol but I pay a lot of attention to that urge. I drank some but stopped. There is way too much of that history in my family.
Caffeine, now. Also addictive. I’ve quit caffeine a couple of times. I quit back in medical school because my stomach hurt. Second year I kept falling asleep in the lectures. I tried standing up through them and woke up sliding sideways down the wall. I wonder if people laughed. Everyone was sick of sitting in that room, one floor up from the first year, and trying to learn an impossible amount of information. I don’t think people did laugh. We were all in the same boat after all. If they laughed, it was the laugh of recognition.
So I gave up and sat back down and took notes and fell asleep. My notes would trail off down the page at 40 minutes in to the lecture. Over and over and over. But there might be some advantages to hearing medicine in a dream state. Who knows?
My friends came while I was drinking coffee. Four pine siskins. I have named the first three Winken, Blinken and Nod. The fourth one showed up a little late. That one is Bill. Blinken is very fat and I suspect will appear abruptly thin after the eggs are laid.
A pair of juncos joined them. The feeder got a little bit chaotic when a house sparrow showed up. I thought there was a fifth pine siskin but I realized that this one had a pale pink hood: the lady of the house sparrow pair was present. Then my song sparrow, who sings every morning from across the street, came in. He and I have sung back and forth for years.
I have not seen a lady song sparrow yet. Or maybe she slipped in and out, she will be a little difficult to distinguish from the lady house sparrow and the pine siskins.
What joy to have new friends. I think I will have to fill the feeder every two or three days. It is spring and there will soon be new mouths to feed and everyone is hungry.
The photograph is not from my yard. It is from a wilder place, that is very beautiful.
Or no, I refuse. It is your game. I was not playing. I am the honey badger, metabolism so fast that I have to run from one meal to the next or else I will starve. I eat whatever I can find: cobras, bees, anything. I eat or I die.
You have tethered a honey badger to oxygen by playing a game.
I am the football and you have been kicking me, throwing me, catching me, slamming me to the ground as hard as you can in the end zone.
And now that I am worn and damaged and torn, you’ll toss me away, not even notice me, and find a new ball.
You will need a new football. To play with.
I don’t envy that person.
The truth is, it will be one of you. The group will rest on their laurels, oh, we nearly killed her, wasn’t it great? We showed her. She is so stupid, took her what, 21 years to fucking figure it out? And she thinks she’s so smart.
I was looking for food because I am always hungry. The food insecurity goes back to infancy. Maybe to the womb: my mother says she was not to gain weight and spent the entire pregnancy longing for a gigantic ice cream Sunday. Think of being in a womb, attacked by antibodies to tuberculosis, and starving all the time. Might be a little bit worried when birth happens. Fuck, I am going through a tunnel, what horrors await me here? But maybe there will be more food.
Maybe someone will love me. Maybe there will be someone for me to love. And feed. We can give each other food.
My advice to you is don’t be the ball. I was the ball for 21 years. I was so hungry the whole time, for food and for love, that I kind of noticed but dismissed it as unimportant. Food and love were more important. Work and my patients were more important. You don’t matter and your games are trivial.
It will be the weakest one who will be the ball. You worry that you are the one. You should worry. You had better look strong right away. Post some horror. Write something really tough. Don’t show anyone any niggling doubts. Um, the ball is wearing oxygen. I am feeling a little bad about this. Are you feeling bad about this? The ball isn’t just crazy, it’s hurt. Actually crazy is an illness too: I know that you discriminate and think that cancer is a legitimate illness and that mania isn’t, but you are assholes. No, you’re too small and pathetic to be an asshole. You are a one celled animal that is clinging to a hair on an asshole and you get shat on daily. And you know, deep deep in your tiny shrunken heart, that you deserve it.
I am so glad I am not you.
I am tethered to oxygen. But I am healing. I don’t think you can. You are locked in your small sick pathetic triangulation competition and pretending that it’s a game that it’s ok that you are just playing.
Meanwhile, the oxygen is portable.
I have food and I have love and I have work to do that lifts me on wings. I will go too near the sun and light on fire and fall burning, but that’s ok. I’ve done it before. The ocean heals me, always. It is so much fun to fly!
This is in memory of my mother, my father and my sister. I miss all three and I love them and they love me. Today is the day my mother died. The longer we live, the more days are days when someone that we love died. But they are still here. They are in the rocks and the sky and the trees and the coffee cup. They are not in sugary donuts or foods that cause heart attacks. But they are all around us, cradle us, still love us. Joy to you and the memories of your loved ones who have gone on. Blessings.
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