Our community lost a good man and today was the service to celebrate his life. I was working so I didn’t attend the religious part of the service but I did manage to spend a little time at the reception afterwards. Several people remarked that death after a long illness can be a blessing, and I suppose that it can, but I doubt that makes his loved ones miss him any less.
I looked across the room at the faces of the grieving. In this small town, a man’s family is not just his blood relations, but those he’s fished with, worked alongside, worshipped with. Several generations all gathered around, remembering and reaffirming the bonds they share – eating, telling stories, holding babies… Driving back in the twilight, I watched the sky pink the sea… what words are there?
When I got home, all I could write were the following lines which may turn into a poem, or maybe not…
A man is a boat,
his life, a braided river.
Poets are people who process the world with words. We make sense of our lives through them, receive solace from them. We read poetry to know that we are not alone and we write to assure ourselves of our bonds to the world and to each other.
I’m going to close the wonderful poem “To Hold” by Li-Young Lee. His work in Behind My Eyes is beyond luminous. Treat yourself to this book – not only is his poetry transformative, but the book comes with CD of Lee reading his work, absolutely mesmerizing.
For the next few days, try the following: ask yourself, “What am I grieving?” Our society buries grief, and your pain may be where the secret core of your poetry is.
So we’re dust. In the meantime, my wife and I
make the bed. Holding opposite edges of the sheet,
we raise it, billowing, then pull it tight,
measuring by eye as it falls into alignment
between us. We tug, fold, tuck. And if I’m lucky,
she’ll remember a recent dream and tell me.
One day we’ll lie down and not get up.
One day, all we guard will be surrendered.
Until then, we’ll go on learning to recognize
what we love, and what it takes
to tend what isn’t for our having.
So often, fear has led me
to abandon what I know I must relinquish
in time. But for the moment,
I’ll listen to her dream,
and she to mine, our mutual hearing calling
more and more detail into the light
of a joint and fragile keeping.
~by Li-Young Lee