Writing Sideways Poems/ “Where You Are Not” in Esthetic Apostle

Back in 2001-2005,  I suffered the loss of several loved ones, both families and friends.  Before then, I sometimes marveled how I had not experienced the death of anyone I cared about and I was nearly 50 then.  I knew that would end, and it did as friends died from freak accidents (falling on ice in a church parking lot and having a bone fragment reach the bloodstream–RIP Ruth) to dying while sleeping and choking (RIP Earl), to the death of my godmother from heart disease, my mother from dementia from a terrible head injury to my father to a stroke he suffered while we were on the phone–and so on.

All of this emotional and body memory is being resurfaced by the death of my only sister last week.  I remember grief, what it feels like (shock, anger, grief, disbelief, pain), what it tastes like (tears), what it sounds like (choking, crying, silence). And then the permanence, the inability to touch the loved one anymore.

I wrote a lot of poetry about grief before then because of childhood losses that did not involve death, during this time, and afterwards, for my sister was diagnosed with terminal illnesses, one after the other after the other.  She lived an amazing 15 years after the first terminal diagnosis–truly amazing.

But I rarely wrote directly about the one who died, except for about my best friend Susan who died young, before age 40, from colon cancer.  We were such close friends I was shattered.  When someone told me I should get over it, I snapped and wrote a very harsh poem titled NOTOVERIT, full of profanities.

You may have heard that writers used everything in their life to write, and that is true of me, but not in a direct fashion. I write sideways poems.

Sideways?  I usually wrote about the death of a spouse or a divorce, telling my dear husband it was how I could deal with the grief, to write about it sideways, obliquely.  Since we are still married, he just gave a puzzled look.  But it helped me to write about grief in a way others could understand without battering me further.

This poem, “Where You are Not,” was written to explore the empty feeling of not being able to touch, to feel, to see the loved one anymore. I am blessed to have my spouse with me in my daily life, but grief is grief I think, and while I could not yet write about the many others since they came too close together, I could fictionalize my losses and take poetic license.

I really appreciate Esthetic Apostle for publishing this poem in their June 2019 issue.

where you are not poetry at esthetic apostle June 2019

 

 

Lessons from Garbage Day–repost

bicycle pexels    You need help, was all he said. Not a question, a statement.

I had just come home from visiting a dear friend, and was making three trips from the curb to the car to the house–taking in emptied garbage cans, my purse, etc. I think I was limping a bit, leftover injury that’s so much better now, but still a limp at times.

He was a boy of 11-13, just riding his cool stingray bike around the block, around, around, around. I noticed him circling, looking bored. He seemed to be new to the neighborhood. Maybe he was checking out the middle school nearby.

After my second trip, a wheel on one of the garbage cans fell off.

You need help, he said, loud enough for me to hear him. No yelling. No gestures that would raise alarm. He stayed on his bike. A kid.

You need help.

Excuse me?

You need help?

No, thanks, thanks a lot though. You getting ready to go back to school?

Yeah, he said, sounding a bit sad.

And he rode off.

In another world, I would have said thank you , what’s your name, here’s $5 to carry this stuff in for me.

In this world, I wish I could have told him, someone taught you manners, and that’s great. But in this world,  young men might best be taught–don’t talk to women you don’t know for it scares them and we women tend to mistrust many males, even boys of 12-13.

And as a teacher, I would be very reluctant to accept help from ANY youngster not known–and I mean parents knowing ME.

If I see him again when I’m with the Big Guy, I will say hello and thank him for the offer.

But in this sanitized and isolated suburbia, we pay for help we cannot do ourselves. There is no community. None. We are advised to socialize out back, not in front. Nothing in front of the houses. No bikes, no lawn furniture.

Make it look like no one lives here but trees and shrubs and garbage cans.

I think I’m right that this was a boy who was taught to help the elderly.

Lesson learned, we are no longer than country.

We are the country of no guns allowed signs on schools, churches, etc.

We are the country of ever smaller nuclear families.

We are the country of cars and garages and where simple courtesy can be seen as dangerous. By children or adults.

It made me glad somehow that he asked, nonetheless. I salute your parents for teaching you manners. I hope I thanked you with a sincere smile; I didn’t have the heart to tell this middle-schooler that we just are not friendly to strangers.

I did look for this boy, but I never saw him again.  I hope he is still willing to help out older folks, and hope his heart is still so good.