Here is a poem I’ve come to love, followed by my reflections. It’s by Barbara Crooker from her collection “Gold.”
is a river you wade in until you get to the other side.
But I am here, stuck in the middle, water parting
around my ankles, moving downstream
over the flat rocks. I’m not able to lift a foot,
move on. Instead, I’m going to stay here
in the shallows with my sorrow, nurture it
like a cranky baby, rock it in my arms.
I don’t want it to grow up, go to school, get married.
It’s mine. Yes, the October sunlight wraps me
in its yellow shawl, and the air is sweet
as a golden Tokay. On the other side,
there are apples, grapes, walnuts,
and the rocks are warm from the sun.
But I’m going to stand here,
growing colder, until every inch
of my skin is numb. I can’t cross over.
Then you really will be gone.
She doesn’t say she won’t cross over, but that she can’t. In this, the poet recognizes the seismic impact of a significant death. For me, it also speaks to grief’s import in my personal growth and relationships. Moreover, to force the passage of my grief, to “move on” too quickly, feels unnatural. Particularly the phrase, “nurture it like a cranky baby, rock it in my arms,” suggests an instinctive cleaving to grief, and the acceptance of a mourning time – a time like childhood, to be cherished and gleaned for its truths. Like childhood and water, it is moving, and will inevitably change. The insights and ongoing connection to Kissie that grief has offered me are personal (“It’s mine”), and though they will likely (hopefully) be long-lasting, they are not static.
Significantly, this poem counsels me to respect where I am in grief, to resist turning away from my individual mourning as chronos time (like “water parting around my ankles”) marches on, and cultural dictates urge me to put it, and therefore Kissie, behind me. My mourning and my love cannot be separated.
The poet also acknowledges that even in grief life remains beautiful (“Yes, the October sunlight wraps me in its yellow shawl, and the air is sweet as a golden Tokay”), but that to fully sever it, is to orphan ourselves.