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Katie’s Musings: Grief

Katie Miller
August 29 2018

When I first walked into Dow Edgerton’s Poetics of Grief class a few years ago, I was truthfully not looking forward to it.  I’m not really a crier, you see.  Mom always said I never knew how to cry.  Whenever I’d try, I just coughed.  But I knew in that class I was probably going to cry or cough or whatever, and I wasn’t excited.

A few moments in, Dow told us about why he’d created the class.  When he lost his father, he said, he didn’t feel like he’d grieved well, and so he did what academic/minister-types always do when they want to make sense of something:  he researched and examined and read and wrote.  He found things other people had said about grief, and he researched and examined and read and wrote.  And decided lots of things, but particularly that there was not one right or wrong way to do it, as long as the grief (aka love with nowhere to go, really) was being felt and lived. 

One of the first things he had us read was Ted Kooser’s poem, Mother.  It’s become a favorite, so I’m sharing below: 

Mid April already, and the wild plums
bloom at the roadside, a lacy white
against the exuberant, jubilant green
of new grass an the dusty, fading black
of burned-out ditches. No leaves, not yet,
only the delicate, star-petaled
blossoms, sweet with their timeless perfume.

You have been gone a month today
and have missed three rains and one nightlong
watch for tornadoes. I sat in the cellar
from six to eight while fat spring clouds
went somersaulting, rumbling east. Then it poured,
a storm that walked on legs of lightning,
dragging its shaggy belly over the fields.

The meadowlarks are back, and the finches
are turning from green to gold. Those same
two geese have come to the pond again this year,
honking in over the trees and splashing down.
They never nest, but stay a week or two
then leave. The peonies are up, the red sprouts
burning in circles like birthday candles,

for this is the month of my birth, as you know,
the best month to be born in, thanks to you,
everything ready to burst with living.
There will be no more new flannel nightshirts
sewn on your old black Singer, no birthday card
addressed in a shaky but businesslike hand.
You asked me if I would be sad when it happened

and I am sad. But the iris I moved from your house
now hold in the dusty dry fists of their roots
green knives and forks as if waiting for dinner,
as if spring were a feast. I thank you for that.
Were it not for the way you taught me to look
at the world, to see the life at play in everything,
I would have to be lonely forever.

“Were it not for the way you taught me to look at the world, to see the life at play in everything, I would have to be lonely forever.”  That last line got me.  And I cry… er, coughed up a storm.

I’ve had some grief.  I didn’t know how much I would need that class when I took it, the grief I would go through in the years that followed with the loss of my own father.  But that last few lines of that poem?  Even now, that’s basically all I know about grief.  With certainty, anyway.

(To hear more about what Dow knows about grief and other things, he will be here to speak at First Central from September 15-16th and I hope you are able to make it.  Click here for more details.)