Posted by: John Looker | 24 April, 2011

CIRCUMNAVIGATING A DEATH


CIRCUMNAVIGATING A DEATH

It’s the absence of someone after a death
that drains away
normality, that rewrites the laws –

you discover first how a hand
loses its warmth,
how a face becomes merely a portrait.

Nurses, doctors, who enter the room continue
to speak with restraint,
but now with solicitude for you, the watcher, the sherpa.

Minutes before you had understood why you were here.
Now, uncertain,
unrehearsed, an actor who is waiting a cue,

you hesitate, falter, between kneeling or standing.
This is new
and this will continue for days.

That hair brush and comb; these glasses:
throw them away?
It would seem indelicate, abrupt.

So many decisions to make, and someone
you’d like to consult
but can’t, someone withdrawn from the scene.

The funeral provides a temporary landscape. Afterwards
you look for routine
but are only aware of the gaps, the anomalies, the reminders:           

the ghost in the answerphone memory,
notes on the calendar.
You cope of course. You live each day.

It’s the absence of someone after a death
that drains away
normality, that rewrites the laws –

you discover

                              

© John Stevens 2011

I’m grateful to Han Stoney for permission to reproduce the painting, taken from her blog http://thethinks.com/ 

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Responses

  1. beautifully sad John. you captured a moment we all have or will face.

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  2. This is beautiful John, but sad.

    You have captured so exactly how I felt after my mother’s death – those gaps and the diary notes which caught me unawares.

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  3. Beautiful, John – it has depth and many layers of emotion, but there’s a restraint that gives it its real power. I think this is terrific.

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  4. Beautiful – very evocative x

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  5. Thank you very much everybody. I tried to capture the universal experience … always hard to know if you’ve managed it or got the tone right.

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  6. Of course the, uh, cat that wrote: ‘Oh Dog. Without an end, a clause is not a clause, all claws leave marks to end the clause,’ must pause to applaud the way…no, John, I’ll refrain from another refrain…I will, really…but the tail ‘you discover’ is an excellent wag to tell this tale, for it ends the poem and begins it again, reinterpreting the poem again and again. You discover the hairbrush and the comb, you discover the ghost in the answering machine—do they call them answerphones in England?—you discover that you can write a poem about the unthinkable—how poems can violate thought—you discover it and rediscover it. You claw to the surface. For there is nothing ‘of course’ about coping, is there?

    By the way, the picture by Hannah Stoney is quite beautiful. Beauty may be another way to discover

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    • I think you have already guessed that the repetition, or circularity, was in part prompted by the exploration you’ve been making of repetition on your own blog and with John Armstrong at Bebrowed.
      Yes, we call those machines answerphones in England. Odd name now I think about it.
      And I’m glad you like Hannah Stoney’s painting as much as I do.

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  7. The tone is very right John. It has a silence and a loneliness about it despite the bustle and movement of scene. I wish there was comfort to end it… but there is just a continuance, which of course is so apt and perfect to continue the sorrow.

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    • Thanks for the reassurance about tone Kiersty.
      I’m glad you think the continuance of the poem works – the circularity seemed right for the task.

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  8. “The funeral provides a temporary landscape. Afterwards
    you look for routine
    but are only aware of the gaps, the anomalies, the reminders”
    My grandfather died four years ago.
    I cant bring myself to remove him from my address book…

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    • Thank you for mentioning this. Actually, it is a wonderful tribute to your grandfather.

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  9. Wow! The poem has captured how I feel since I lost my grandpa. My inspiration to write comes most of the times when I feel the sadness that I met when he died. It’s awkward (at least that’s how I feel about my own recent pieces of writing), but it’s the truth. I had great insights reading your poem, John. Thank you for the experience.

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    • I’m glad that the poem seems to speak to others too. Thanks a lot for your thoughts about it.

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  10. Hi, I just discovered your blog via Ina’s and have been enjoying reading your poems, this one especially. It’s so carefully considered and detailed. The circularity mentioned above is so effective – evocative of how these experiences have to be considered and reconsidered and then considered again…

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    • Thank you for letting me have your thoughts on this. I am touched to find that the piece has some resonance for others – it certainly had for me as I wrote it.

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  11. John, this expresses two things: One the observer caught in a room that they would prefer not to be in as life ebbs toward its end and two the ghost that is living in your memory and in little reminders but has gone through the funeral and the aftermath of ceremony and finality. These are difficult, difficult moments, but this poem captures them wonderfully.

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    • I hadn’t seen it like that but I think you are right: there are these two parallel things going on. I am relieved that this poem is satisfactory in your eyes, Ethel (it is Ethel writing, isn’t it?) – the poem is not a comfortable one.

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  12. This one takes my breath away. My husband collapsed and died in my arms two and a half years ago. The chill of death came so quickly. I remember trying to rub warmth back into his hands. Reading this poem leaves me longing to explore this moment and all it held for me.

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    • Tricia, I really appreciate your comment here and your openness in speaking of your own experience when your husband died. Thank you so much.

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  13. There are moments (whether you experience them first hand or read about them in a poem) that really put things into perspective. That’s what you’ve done for me, and I thank you for it.

    Grace and peace to you,
    Eric

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    • I really appreciate your comment – thank you.

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  14. I’ve read and been touched by this poem many times now, but especially at this time what strikes me especially is the quiet repetition of “you discover…you discover..” a kind of simple factuality in an extreme situation that is so admirable and true. Beyond initial shock, this loss is a launching onto a journey of discovery, more discovery, even years later, maybe for a lifetime…almost as if death is not a wall, but a window. But you know that; you wrote the poem. And it’s a really fine one, John.

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    • Thank you, Cynthia; thank you very much indeed. I am deeply honoured to find that this poem has been of some worth in your eyes.

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  15. The empty spaces indeed… the uncertainty of how or what comes next…so true, thank you.

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    • Hello Kalila — I am honoured, as I greatly appreciate your own poems.

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