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The Language of Loss

Six friends have died in the last ten months. In the stark realization of no more hugs or laughs or conversation between us, histories and future plans suddenly come to a stop, friendships and love irretrievably gone—a sense of disbelief has lingered beside the grief. I thought I could write about this, how loss constricts everything in its path, and how if we’re lucky, over time we are opened up to a life that, although so very different and completely changed, is irrevocably worthy of inhabiting and loving again.

Yet as these words come out, the immensity of the subject makes me go inward, and into the past. Loss, in order to find its language that wants to speak at this moment, has been condensed into the image of tears.

It has been my pattern to bear grief without many tears. In a poem written a few years ago about my father’s sudden death in 1972, I wrote: “Denial came easily / while inching through each day / a maneuvering over black ice in anticipation of impact / no guardrail or outstretched hand / the tiniest leak of tears.”

No poems about that time appeared until 1992, the first inspired by a dream I had when I was 39, the same age as my dad when he died. What couldn’t be spoken of, or described for twenty years was there on paper in short lines with a jagged rhythm—a part of me had died when he did. I don’t remember any tears.

The news last week of the death of one more friend sent me to the altar in the corner of my studio. Sitting in front of a candle, seeing this friend’s face, remembering stories, our monthly emails, I burst into tears. Surprising, great gushes of tears, an underground river of grief that pressed their watery purpose into my awareness. To cry great gushes of tears is to write a poem of loss, over and over until the tears become tiny, tiny so we can carry them with us wherever we go, just as we carry our smiles, our laughter, our helping hands, our shoulders to lean on.

To express loss is to express love. In honor of people who have touched us as no other could, or ever will again.

Photo taken by my mother, near Lake Tahoe 1957



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