In my mid-thirties, my life took a strange turn. I first met real grief with the loss of my grandma’s, my marriage, a serious leg injury, my grandfather passing, and my mother going through a bone marrow transplant. I was also overcoming weight gain due to my leg injury and having to face Anorexia and Depression that I dealt with for a long time. I threw myself into my job at the County Mental Health Center, where some months due to short staff we had one day off a month. I was severely lost. I learned a lot about grief and loss during this time. There were many hopeless moments, and I questioned often why I was on this planet. I reigned my soul in very tight. I could not catch a breath. Around me, I watched as it seemed like all my friends were moving forward into marriages, children, new careers. Meanwhile, I was stuck in this endless winter. My. heart was just broke. There’s a line in a Dar William’s song that I remember from high school that states, “When I chose to live/ there was no joy/ it was just a line a crossed/ it was not worth the pain my death would cost/ so I was not lost or found.” One of the greatest lessons I learned as a therapist during this time was “I had to let go of comparisons.’ I learned during this time that grief, much like other things, cannot be compared. The worst grief is the grief we are currently experiencing. Therapists that work with grief day on and day out will tell you, you can work with grief every day and it feels totally foreign when it enters your own life. Regret and guilt and many other complicated emotions show up during the time of grief too. One thing that amazed me is how well I was able to hold myself up and be competent and engaging at work to total strangers and then just completely freeze and fall a apart in my own life. In the same Dar William song noted above, “After All,” she writes, “The sun rose/so many colors it nearly broke my heart.” It was a true statement, I knew there was beauty and hope in this world, and I could see it. I just couldn’t feel it. It was like for years I could watch the world, but I wasn’t a part of it. Again, I have no recollection of deciding I would come alive again. There’s a great scene in the movie “Rabbit Hole,” with Nicole Kidman, which is the story about a couple who lost their son. In a conversation with another mom who lost her child, Kidman asks, “Does it every go away?” The other mom says, “The weight of the grief changes. The weight of it does. It becomes bearable. You carry it around like a brick in your pocket. Sometimes you even forget about it. Then you reach in your pocket and there it is.” She later adds, “It’s not terrible, it’s what you have instead of your son,’ which in many ways is true. Grief keeps us connected to what we lost. During this time, I was burnt out as a therapist. It was saving me and it was also draining me. I began to look at my choice to become a therapist versus a writer. At a certain point, I knew I had to connect with people again. I reached out to an old college friend, who is also a writer, who was going through some grief of her own. We had many discussions about writing. It was during one of these discussions that she disclosed to me that the professor who took me under her wing was ‘sad’ that I chose not to go on to become a professor of creative writing. At the time, I had not written much in a while. The energy was not there. It was during these conversations that I felt obligated to return to writing, not only for my old professor but also remembering how in every other period of challenge, it healed me. It was a constant when there was no constants. It was a place to feel what I had frozen. I don’t know how. I could give you a ‘relative’ period of time, but slowly visiting with my friend and talking about our writing, I began to return to the world of the living. She began to return to her life. The poem I’m sharing today is about that period of time. When I chose not to go to graduate school to be a writer or a professor of writing, it was because I thought in some way ‘I could be more impactful in the world.’ Those six months reminded me how impactful writing is and that the world definitely needs writers. They are great healers in their own right. This poem is about those months, it’s about re-learning the importance of writing, and about two friends finding their voices again in the process.
Rose’ and the Ripe Peach
It is Rose’ season,
clouds & sun, sun and lite showers.
Nina Simone wanders out of the record player
and sings all the plants awake. When weather is like this,
we drink bourbon coffee and read poetry into late morning.
With weather in constant motion, there is much
to write about. We move with it,
we learn again how to kiss the sunniest person,
and then allow the person with the rainiest disposition
make us wet for too long. We have seasons
where we bore each other, seasons without dreams,
seasons where we were unable to laugh at ourselves.
Today is a day where we are beginning to see
how many seeds have submitted themselves
to the ground, to lay dormant, just to have the chance for growth.
It is unwritten between us that our conversations
will lead to poems. Not that I need to transform you- you’re ok.
I was not well for a long time, and you were there with soup,
coffee with some of the Bullett thrown in, and a reminder
the only way I was to get well was to write.
You can see I am afraid of everything.
Loss flies over everything like gulls,
squawking and bickering over what to pick next
from my already scavenged life.
You must keep writing. Remember
when I sent you that book of poems
after college when you moved to California,
signed by our favorite writer. I nod.
She was so torn on how to sign that book.
She looked at me and said, ‘He’s a lost petunia in California.’
She hated that you left writing. She knew your talent.
I think it did hurt her that I gave up a career in writing.
I had no idea how important it was then.
I felt like being a poet would have no impact on the world.
Really, you look disappointed and confused.
You have always been this city that cannot stop its movement.
I am more the shop on the block that needs to close
a few days a week even when business is booming.
You are a painting, a good French film come to life,
Nina Simone singing because that’s what happens
when you open your mouth and you have that voice.
You are ivory and ink to be shared with everyone,
the scent of spring flowers, there is nothing about your scent,
your presence that can hide. I think back to college
where our favorite professor used to always say
words have a presence. Choose carefully.
“A breast is not the same as a tit.”
I am a breast and you are a tit.
I am a penis and you are a cock.
You are screwing and I am making love.
I am not writing this for you.
I have nothing to be gained by praising you.
We are compliments to each other.
Every piano deserves a voice like Nina Simone
to accompany it. Every full bodied Rose’
deserves to be paired with barbecue, very spicy food,
and a good ripe peach. The beauty of wine
is it naturally pairs itself to foods that enhance
it’s natural flavors and season after season
they’re there to compliment each other,
without words, without expectation,
that just have to be put together and enjoyed.