Monday, August 16, 2010

Another poem (what's gotten into me?)

It's been a tough couple of weeks here. An old friend's daughter (a victim of spousal abuse) died, and a member of my extended family is struggling through, and I hope out of, a nervous breakdown. Thinking about all this brought me back to a poem I've been wrestling with for some time. It's about my grandfather, who had a nervous breakdown and committed suicide. It's very much a work in progress, but I thought I'd share it with you anyway. Feedback welcome but I also know it's, well, heavy to say the least (!), so no worries if it's too sad to read or comment on.

What I would say to my grandfather before he jumped

I know:

the unbearable weight of skin,

heavy as a suit of stone, pins you

under your smothering despair;

how your bones feel already broken

by your steep fall

from joy and your lacerated heart's

bled dry of all its hope. Madness

brought you to this high and burning room

but not alone.


I have stood at the same clear pane

you stand at now and seen,

on both sides of it, a broken life;

the only difference that on this side

skin covers the keening pain,

but on the other side your jailing skin

breaks open and the pain leaks out leaving you

in peace, at last. Your thoughts whisper

it’s logical, that step

up onto the narrow ledge between life

and its end. But I know


that, if you jump, the window never closes

over the unanswerable riddles

of Why? and then Why not?

So each of us you left in grief

must hold tight all our lives against the airless

vacuum of your fall. The open window calls

till some of us just tire, let go. Without you

your wife will drown herself

in a river of drink, a grandchild swallows

too many bitter pills, I always know

where the exits are in case

I need to get out. Still I stay


here. Here,

take my hand, stay

your feet. This living death will die

away at last. Stop

your ears against the poisonous Iago

of our traitorous chemistry, close

the window, reclaim the still-breathing body

of moments that make up the rest

of your life; the one you made from

countless things like love

of a girl with brown eyes and a red dress,

three children born with her Indian eyes. Wife,

daughter, son. These words that tell us who we are,

they grew from you. Remember

how you drove across three states, no stops,

windows rolled up just to protect them all

from polio which had no cure. But If you step out


onto that yearning air, what remains of you

will be just the hollow shattering shell

of your fall to death on a sidewalk

among strangers. Stop, stay, remember

us. Protect us now, again,

from the crippling incurable wound,

the aching phantom limb that you

become after,

if you fall.

6 comments:

YELLOWDOG GRANNY said...

that broke my heart.

Elizabeth said...

Thanks for reading it. Many hearts were irrecoverably broken when he died, many lives changed for the worse.

ayeM8y said...

Very sad indeed. There is never a response for death and dying or words that are appropriate for the circumstance. You managed to create a loving poem where most would struggle with a sentence.

Lovely.

laurent said...

you write very well.

a thousand shades of twilight said...

That's very moving, honest,from the heart, with specific heartbreaking details. And a real clear-eyedness. I particularly like the line: Here,

take my hand, stay

your feet.

It's very loving.
You're a great writer, dear.

L said...

--this really does knot my throat. beautiful, so painful...