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.


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