a poem for loss

Dear friends,

I hope you are well! I’m planning to use this website to share a poem I love with you every week, with a few lines on why I love it. (I mean poem in the widest sense of the word, so expect spoken word and videos and prose-like things!).

I’ll try to keep my comments sparing, since a good poem speaks for itself. And remember that my comments are by no means the ‘right’ interpretation of the poem. Don’t worry if you feel like you don’t ‘understand’ the poem the first time you read it. I’m happy to agree with one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century when he says that ‘genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood’ (T.S. Eliot).

I hope these poems can bring you a moment of calm at the start of your week. Perhaps a line or a phrase or even just a word will snag in your head and stay with you. Here’s our first poem!

Sorting Through, by Liz Locchead

The moment she died, my mother’s dance dresses
turned from the colours they really were
to the colours I imagine them to be.
I can feel the weight of bumptoed silver shoes
swinging from their anklestraps as she swaggers
up the path towards her dad, light-headed
from airman’s kisses. Here, at what I’ll have to learn
to call my father’s house, yes every
ragbag scrap of duster prints her even more vivid
than an Ilford snapshot on some seafront
in a white cardigan and that exact frock.
Old lipsticks. Liquid stockings.
Labels like Harella, Gor-ray, Berketex.
As I manhandle whole outfits into binbags for Oxfam
every mote in my eye is a utility mark
and this is useful:
the sadness of dispossessed dresses,
the decency of good coats roundshouldered
in the darkness of wardrobes,
the gravitas of lapels,
the invisible danders of skin fizzing off from them
like all that life that will not neatly end.

◊◊◊

When someone leaves, what do they leave behind and what do we do with it?

Locchead’s view of the material things left behind by her mother’s death conjures up a whole world that will die with her – a world of anachronisms like ‘liquid stockings’, of now-gone brands like ‘Harella, Gor-ray, Berketex’, a world where her mother was young, ‘light-headed / from airman’s kisses’. But although this world is dead, it is far from gone.

Instead, it continues to exist in our narrator’s mind – perhaps even more vividly than before, since it is now subject to the strong forces of memory, imagination, fantasy (‘The moment she died, my mother’s dance dresses / turned from the colours they really were / to the colours I imagine them to be’). I’m reminded of the famous saying, ‘You die twice: once when you stop breathing, and the second time, when somebody says your name for the last time’.

What are we to make of this? Is it a comfort, that the people we remember are never gone? Is it a responsibility, even a burden, since their existence is now subject to our memory of them? Is it depressing, that grief has no tangible limit? I don’t know, and I don’t think that the poem need answer these questions. What matters is that it raises them. All that’s clear is that death is just as messy as its counterpart, life; that it ‘will not neatly end’.

All my love,

Tanvi

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