“Grief” — for Ash Wednesday

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A couple of Sundays ago, in those restless moments before the alarm goes off but you know it’s about to, Robert and I heard a large thud and the power went out. It came on 30 minutes later.

We assumed that a transformer blew, but later we saw one of the entrances to our subdivision was blocked off. Beyond the barricade was a police cruiser, repair truck, and a car. Or half a car. The front was completely smashed.

We later learned more about the accident. Or at least, the two pertinent facts. There was alcohol involved, and a person died.

Someone was driving drunk at 6:00 in the morning.

A person died at the entrance to our subdivision.

The next day, when the street had opened, I was taking the girls to choir when I saw the crowd of people at the crash site, with flowers and stuffed animals and notes. And, I saw tonight after dark, electric candles.

I’ve long been fascinated with roadside memorials. And this new one, so close to where my kids walk to school and where I begin almost every one of my runs, reminded me of the following poem, which I wrote about a different roadside memorial many, many years ago.

It seems appropriate to share it before Ash Wednesday.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

To dust all things return.

“Grief”

I.
you are remarkably sober
as you assemble what you need,
a strange array of supplies:
glue, feathers, cardboard, flowers, wire;
and you fashion a set of wings
(yes wings),
and a funeral bouquet,
and a sign that says Rest in Peace
in black marker
in your best script,
and you take it to the tree
with the bark ripped off,
right there,
at the ruthless bend in the road.

you hang the wings
well above the tree’s white wound,
and nestle the bouquet
between two roots,
and as you affix the sign
a car speeds by,
slicing the air as it goes.
another car passes, and another,
and at first
the gusts knock you off balance,
but you learn to adjust,
to brace yourself,
to stand firm and lean in.

but still,
how dare these people
glide past,
floating on the waves of radio songs,
laughing into their phones?

II.
you think about the place often,
but you don’t return for some time.
you can’t, because
the busyness of your mourning has tipped over
into the business of your
getting back to
getting on with
moving forward with
living
life.
plus, well,
it’s embarrassing, all your grief on
crude display.
so you leave the site untended;
it’s just easier.

but
sooner or later you must return,
straighten the feathered wings,
remove the sign that bled black letters,
and clear out the wilted blooms,
or maybe just crush them into brown confetti
that trembles into the road.

fresh flowers were the right decision at first
(vibrant, real, momentary, like she was)
but now it’s time for practical silk, and you cry,
not because she deserves better than fakes, though she does,
but because silk lasts awhile, and you know now,
this is going to take much longer than you thought.
so you secure those wings even tighter,
and you plant those silk flowers
secure, for the long unchanging time.

III.
now’s the season
when nothing much happens.
you glide by the place, just like the others;
though you slow and breathe, you don’t stop.

as time goes on, you notice:
the bright, fake flowers grimace on, stupidly,
as if put there only yesterday,
but
the cardboard wings have aged:
the feathers are dulled,
the edges are worn,
the fringes are ragged;
despite all your hard work,
they are becoming more and more
an organic part of things.

it is the paradox of grief,
always fading,
always and ever new.

~

photo credit: MTSOfan via photopin cc

9 thoughts on ““Grief” — for Ash Wednesday

  1. Bob Braxton

    May, 1960, Joe MacPherson – through the windshield in the car his cousin Jimmie Cooper drove drag racing the afternoon after school, the sound of his father, wailing for his firstborn (he had a younger boy not involved). Joe was a classmate of my brother, 9th grade, Eli Whitney high. Within six months two other classmates – one James Curtis driving a brand-new car that left the curve of a dirt road, the other – Judy – overturned on a dirt road in the night. Three from a small class of perhaps forty students – forever gone.

    Reply
  2. Sarah Spath

    I’ve been thinking about Mary Oliver’s “The Lilies Break Open Over the Dark Water.” It’s not roadside memorials, but a number of people I know are dealing with the surprise of a suicide lately. The grief is potent and somehow tied up with the harshness of this winter. Thanks for your poem.

    Reply
  3. Mamala

    Finally had time to read this. Wondered how your children are dealing with or do they even know about it?

    Reply

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