Turning Thirty-Six

by Adrian Blevins

I’ve never told the story of my mourning body. It’s not much of a story.
It’s a sickbed story made of graveyard refuse.
I achieved my mourning body with starvation and blotch.

I rejected water, I cast off wine,
I sat among weeds below brown finches crooning and said deplete, deplete,
deplete. I loved my mourning body so immeasurably

I’d lie vigilant in bed and trace the blade of each protruding bone,
remembering the husband who’d left and the mother who’d left
and their psycho-goblins in the psycho air.

Or maybe I’d remember the unholy remains of a spectral mare
some turn-of-the-century farmer had tossed in a shallow creek
between the evergreen ridges of my grandmother’s tree farm.

My sister and I would stand there, staring at the pelvis
or the skull, touching or licking the bleached shoulder blades.
We knew nothing, then. We were just children, then.

Oh, we knew death was out there, flying overhead like a yellow canary
while bellowing in the trees like a brass trombone,
but what could we have known of the births that would take our bodies from us?

No matter what, the bodies of girls will fatten on semen and burgeon with milk
while the fathers with zilch in their hands amble off drunk, broke, brawling, blind.
In their divergent dreams do the febrile men see us as we once were,

when we were still little birds in the water? Do they carry us in the pockets
of their hearts? Do they take us out and throw us down
while we rock like hags in the deadbeat dark?

From The Brass Girl Brouhaha, Ausable Press, 2003

What the writer says about the poem: I think the lyric poem is the best artistic form for grief because it knows how to manage feelings—to somehow both express and contain them so they can be as perceived in what I’m going to call an “authentic” way, though that word’s not exactly right, leaving unsaid as it does how completely unique feelings also are. Still, I think W.H. Auden was on to something when he said that “poetry might be best defined as the clear expression of mixed feelings.” “Turning Thirty-Six” is an early divorce poem. I wrote hundreds and hundreds of these. Each one taught me something new. “Turning Thirty-Six” taught me, I think, that our losses accumulate over the years until we’re forced to learn to feel everything somehow doubly or triply—I had to deal with my own divorce while re-living my parents’ divorce, my dog Frodo’s death, and, you know, the understanding that everything under the sun must eventually die. This sense of accumulated loss is what the poem tries to dramatize, I think. Our losses are very sad, but at least they’re universal, and that sense of shared experience is what I love about poetry—both writing it and reading it. It helps me understand that I’m not alone, and I really need that. I would be a mess without it. More about Adrian Blevins.


The Infinite Density of Grief

by Lynn Pedersen

What no one tells you is grief
has properties: expands like a gas
to fill space and time—the four corners
of your room, the calendar
with its boxed days—
and when you think it can’t claim anything more,
collapses in on itself, a dying star,
compacting until not even a thimble
of light escapes.

Then grief sleeps, becomes
the pebble in your shoe you can almost
ignore, until a penny on a sidewalk,
dew on a leaf—
some equation detailing the relationship
between loss and minutiae
sets the whole in motion again—

your unborn child, folded and folded
into a question, or the notes
you passed in grade school
with their riddles—
What kind of room
has no windows or doors?

First published in Comstock Review. Forthcoming in the collection The Nomenclature of Small Things, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2016.

What the writer says about the poem: This poem was in my thoughts for years before it took form, primarily because I had difficulty nailing down the language to express the grief of pregnancy loss. The turning point that allowed me to write this piece was a visit to the Rose Center for Earth and Space, part of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. As I learned about the concept of infinite density, I made a connection that the language in the museum wasn’t just talking about the universe, it also described the grief that I had been unable to express. The poem explores the properties of grief, its all-encompassing nature and its ability to return at the oddest times, triggered by the smallest things. When grief is triggered, so are all of the haunting questions such as “Why did this happen?” and “How can I keep this from happening again?”

The riddle “What kind of room/ has no windows or doors” captures the idea of grief as confining, and it also suggests a play on the words womb/room. Alternately, a room with no doors or windows might also be a space of openness and possibility, a room with no walls or ceiling. That sense of not quite knowing what something is, not being able to pin it down—of asking questions when there seem to be no answers—is the place where the poem leaves off. It is also, one could argue, a place from which everything begins. More than anything, I felt a sense of relief at having expressed the poem. Just getting to and formulating the question at the end was an accomplishment. The work of putting this one experience down on paper, and the discovery of science as metaphor, helped to focus my writing on many other poems to follow that explore the theme of loss.

“The Infinite Density of Grief” opens my forthcoming collection, The Nomenclature of Small Things. The collection explores grief, and all that it touches, through a lens of science; the poems unfold and unfold like those grade school notes. More about Lynn Pedersen.