Tag Archives: grief

A poem and places for white people to start fighting racism

People take part in a rally on April 29, 2015 at Union Square in New York, held in solidarity with demonstrators in Baltimore, Maryland demanding justice for an African-American man who died of severe spinal injuries sustained in police custody. AFP PHOTO/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez (Photo credit should read EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ/AFP/Getty Images)
AFP PHOTO/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez
I’m a writer. I take my pain and shape it into words. So today, in the face of more violence against people of color in this country, I wrote a poem.
Racism is not a black problem. It is a white problem. It is imperative that white people educate themselves about racism, listen and validate the voices of people of color, and that we take an active role in staunching the wounds and lifting the yoke.
After the poem you will find links to start doing the hard work of healing the wounds of this country. Join hands. Put your shoulder into it. We can help write a different future.

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW ABOUT WOUNDS

I am gut-punched, hollowed out.
I am grief-broken and angry.
I could list the dead for hours: Sandy Hook, Orlando, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Dallas—
There is ample pain to share.
Daughter, mother, wife, friend. I am these things.
And I have had my heart ripped from my chest by loss.
I know wounds.

This is what I know about wounds: they do not go away.
I will always be the mother of a dead child.
I share this with:
Sandy Hook
Orlando
Philando Castile
Alton Sterling
Dallas
We know wounds.

The wound of America is domination
gaping, bloody, seeping
It doesn’t go away.
We don’t get over it.
We built a country out of human flesh.
That is a fact.
And now—

A wound does not heal when it is
ignored: you’re okay
demeaned: it’s not that bad
prayed over: this is part of the plan
unshared: not my problem
A wound untended goes into sepsis

and the system—that body with the beating heart—fails.

So hear me:
I see the bodies.
I see the guns.
I see our flesh-country seething, suffering, dying—
And also trying to live.

This wound:
It is not okay.
It is worse than you imagine.
No good God planned this.
It is my problem.

It is my problem.
It is my wound.
Our wound.

This is what I know about wounds: they do not go away.
But they can be carried.
If we
see
listen
struggle
claim
If we do these things—
the living flesh can bear the scar.

Here is the homework:
Advice for White Folks in the Wake of the Police Murder of a Black Person
Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person
30+ Resources to Help White Americans Learn About Race and Racism
Six ways white people can help end the War on Black People
It’s My Job to Raise Children Who Are Not Only Not Racist But Actively Anti-Racist
Black Lives Matter – A Reading List

“I never would have turned away”

DSC02664Yesterday I began a high school visit by saying “I wrote THE WAY BACK FROM BROKEN about the hardest, saddest thing that ever happened to me–the death of my daughter.”

After my talk, one student asked me about the insensitive things people say in the book. “Are they real or did you make them up?”

I told him about being at work after she died and how people would see me coming down the hall and turn around so they wouldn’t have to talk to me.

“That’s how terrifying I was,” I told him. “That’s how scary grief is.”

Afterwards, a young man came up to me and said, “I want to give you hug. If I had been in that hall, I never would have turned away.”

And he gave me a hug and I hugged him back and I managed not to cry. The kindness–such kindness–what grace.

And to those of you who didn’t turn away (you know who you are), I am so grateful to you. You saved my life.

A poem by Warsan Shire: What They Did Yesterday Afternoon

what they did yesterday afternoon

by warsan shire

grief-reactionthey set my aunts house on fire
i cried the way women on tv do
folding at the middle
like a five pound note.
i called the boy who use to love me
tried to ‘okay’ my voice
i said hello
he said warsan, what’s wrong, what’s happened?

i’ve been praying,
and these are what my prayers look like;
dear god
i come from two countries
one is thirsty
the other is on fire
both need water.

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.

 

(More from warshan shire in the New Yorker and on her blog.)

On love, loss, and the power of story

Version 2Last night I watched The Theory of Everything, and it left me with the same heavy, rich, complicated sadness that I felt upon finishing The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough a few weeks ago. There is so much in both stories that is courageous and uplifting, beautiful and inspiring.

So why am I filled with canyon-deep heartbreak?

The truth is…

… I want love to win.

I want to believe that love is enough.

I want love to conquer pain and trump loss and endure beyond death.

But the Man in Black is whispering in my ear, “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

My lens is loss. I know that. The death of my daughter will always be lodged in the center of my heart, proof that death wins. The pain of it doesn’t obscure my love for her, but it does reveal love’s shortcomings.

Like Jane and Stephen, we can love each other and still be unable to withstand the way we wear each other down. Like Flora and Henry, we can love each other and know that our love brings trouble into our lives. Like me, we can love each other and still not win against death.

And yet I am still the fool that says love is worth it. Again and again I go back to this quote I saw on my godmother’s refrigerator years ago. I wish I knew who wrote it.

We are simply asked
to make gentle our bruised world
to be compassionate of all,
including oneself,
then in the time left over
to repeat the ancient tale
and go the way of God’s foolish ones.

Most often I return to these words because I need the reminder of self-compassion, but when the pain of loss rises, I need to remember that the ancient tale is to love, to strive, and yes, to lose the ones we love.

Foolish? Yes.

But it is the only story around…

… and I believe in the power of the story.

Right and Real

IMG_9773I won’t lie. Writing a book is hard. It’s often a slog, a get up, type words, hate words, type more words, go to sleep kind of slog.

But sometimes… oh yes sometimes… it’s bone-deep, flesh-thick love.

And happy, surprisingly happy.

I’ve written elsewhere about the pain and loss that went into the writing of my debut novel THE WAY BACK FROM BROKEN. Long ago when I took the first chapters to my critique group, Viva Scriva, Nicole asked me if I was ready to dig into such personal and painful material.

I was ready but that didn’t make it easy.
There was much heartbreak along the way.

This week I spoke with my editor, Andrew Karre, about his editorial notes. Today, I dove into yet another revision.  What I found was joy. I am reading back through this sad sad story and feeling elated that so much of it is right and real. (Yes, I am singing One Song Glory from RENT in my head right now.) As I dive deep into each sentence and every word, I have to opportunity to make this story even more true.

I have done one good thing.
That is enough.

On Ghost Ships and Loss

ghostship

When I was pregnant with my first daughter, I saw, as if prescient, the life we would share—a voyage laid out upon a map of the future, our ship heading out to sea. And then there was death, and our ship rode the waves half in and half out of life. She could not remain with me nor I with her no matter how desperately I wished it.

Our vessels diverged, hers ephemeral and moon-pearled, upon waters I could not travel. She bore away the life I believed we were meant to share. My own craft, war-beaten and barely seaworthy, foundered.

As I limped sail-tattered and broken-masted on a course set by winds that refused to listen, I watched the ghost ship that carried my daughter. Across the swells, I saw her grow into a plump-limbed toddler, her auburn curls twisting in the sea wind. A lithe girl, easy with laughter.

And when she was no longer visible in the distance, I watched the ship as long as I could in the broad expanse of longitude and latitude.

I can no longer see the ghost ship.

I did not follow its course.

I can not imagine her fourteen-years-old.

I could not live that voyage.

— For Esther

With thanks to Cheryl Strayed and Tomas Tranströmer for writing about ghost ships and grief.

Don’t listen to the foolish unbelievers who say forget

IMG_0296

THE SITTING TIME 
by Joe Digman

Don’t listen to the foolish unbelievers
who say forget.
Take up your armful of roses and
remember them
the flower and the fragrance.
When you go home to do your sitting
in the corner by the clock
and sip your rosethorn tea
It will warm your face and fingers
and burn the bottom of your belly.
But as her gone-ness piles in white,
crystal drifts,
It will be the blossom of her moment
the warmth on your belly,
the tiny fingers unfolding,
the new face you’ve always known,
That has changed you.
Take her moment, and hold it
As every mother does.
She will always be
your daughter
And when the sitting is done you’ll find
bitter grief could never poison
the sweetness of her time.