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.