As if you owned nothing
but a pair of earrings,
the two gold hoops that once hung
from the lobes of your living ears

now occupied a little plastic box
marked “patient’s belongings”
someone left for me to find
on the still, hard mound of your chest.

No sign of your cobalt blue kimono
or the brand new underwear
you had been saving in a drawer
and asked me to fetch for you–

my hands shaking–once we knew
the ambulance was on its way.
We lost connection after that.
They came, and you were gone.

Your earrings and I,
with only the turned-off machines
pushed back against the walls to overhear

said our appalling last goodbye. Then
stunned to a disbelief way beyond sorrow,
we went home. In time

I gave the earrings to your sister–
as you know she is a fool for jewelry–
who felt they should be hers.

Most of your other things have gone,
piecemeal, over the years,
each time tearing at the heart.

Only your favorite flannel shirt
stays in the closet still,
its empty arms hanging by its sides,

a last most patient belonging,
waiting for its purpose
to be once again fulfilled.
Originally posted in May, 2013

61 responses »

  1. A sorrow this deep can only be met with silence.

    I am gratified that you found the strength to carry on and that later you had the wherewithal to share with others the vibrant part of you that remained. You enriched the life of a departed soul and now you enrich ours.

    • Dear Bruce….I didn’t mean to cause blubbering first thing on a New Zealand morning. Heck, I was blubbering myself, this morning, until it struck me: it’s just life; it’s just a poem!

  2. Such a clear, strong evocation of that moment when the person you knew has become a still hard mound, a thing, a non-person. There are too many thoughts coming out of this poem to talk about. I have several pieces of clothing that I still happily wear of my mother’s; she is now thirty years gone.

    • Such a comfort—and a memory, and fun!—it must be to wear those things of your mother’s. The loss that occasioned this poem was of my life partner of 43 years. It was sudden, unexpected and changed my sense of the world forever. This time of year brings it all back, acutely, much as I wish to let it go and move on. So, without wishing to be maudlin, I re-post some of the poems of longing and loss. As I recently commented to a fellow blogger, it seems the only way out is through.

  3. This one greeted me like an old friend (page 6). Again it wrenched my heart as I listened to your voice which didn’t tremble. It reminds me of one of my dear friends who lives in London and still keeps her late husband’s belongings as he left them when they left for the hospital. His sweater still draped over his desk chair semi-animated and as evocative as your loved one’s favorite flannel shirt.

    • My dear friend, I get such a kick out of your mentioning on what page the poem occurs in my book! I’m re-posting this month, as I usually do in August, just for a rest. I hope that’s not too boring for long-standing, faithful readers like you. It’s funny how those belongings can take on a life of their own….or the life of the departed, in some way, as they seem to have done with your friend in London. With so much change in health, and moving of house, I now find myself almost estranged from all belongings of my past life, except for my favorite books. Some days, as I encounter all the “things,” I think I’m living in a museum! But there are still the pet animals…all the history with them….and they are getting older. Perhaps when I see them safely to the happy hunting ground ( and if I myself am still kicking) I will become a hermit poet and go live in a cave with almost no belongings at all, save for my Campfire Girl kit. 🙂 Thanks, Jane

  4. Simply beautiful. Raw emotions. Naked truths. Still reminders.

    This one needed to be read.
    Your voice accentuates a longing and devotion that the written word alone cannot convey.

    Thank you for sharing another piece of your heart with us.

  5. Oh, Cynthia. It is hard to respond to such emotion in any way except with more emotion. I’m guessing many of your readers have experienced an appalling goodbye and hung on to cherished items that once belonged to people we have loved and who are now gone. This is so universal yet so personal.

    • That universal/personal balance is precarious but usually depends most on an utter acknowledgement of the actual, even as there is a wish to capture it in the best words….something I think you know about, Susanne, as I recall your beautiful writing about your daughter’s leaving in spring, and your mother’s letters…

  6. It’s quite a journey from the cold plastic box to the warm flannel shirt and the double entendre of it all. So sorry for your loss. A broken heart is not patient to heal. ❤

  7. Cynthia, this is such a strong poem filled with such powerful loss. I love your detachment from the earrings, and their recipient, and the warm blue flannel shirt retaining so much of your friend.
    Losing someone is never easy. Blessings and love. ❤

  8. Is this one in your book Cynthia? I know I’ve read it quite a few times and each time is as though its the first. It really pierces me deeply. Such powerful words of loss. You have a way of bringing us right into the moment, right there with you.

    To me, you read this one so differently to how I’ve heard you read before, possibly because it’s so personal, but your voice is definitely different, very soft. (Not that your voice is hard at all ), but there is a very distinct softness here, which possibly is simply conveying sadness.

    What struck me in this Cynthia was the emphasis you put on the word ‘still’ as if stressing it’s double meaning – the shirt sleeve is still there and it is indeed still. And I spot another very clever double meaning when you say “a last most patient belonging”. This truly is a very special poem.

    • Yes, Chris, this is in my book. (I notice you are posting some things from your book too, just now.) It’s my August thing, to re-post poems.

      The reading probably sounds different from the usual because it was very hard to read aloud without “losing it” as the whole scene came back to me. It’s one thing to be stoic on the page and quite another in speaking. The voice betrays! But I’ve been trying to come to the place where I could record this one with some decorum and was finally able to do so, even as it is rather low key and not very dramatic in expression. It is, what it is—and a good step toward a next stage of healing.

      I’m happy you noticed the plays on words in this, too. I didn’t have to go looking for them; they happened all by themselves! Thank you very much, as always, Chris.

  9. ….these words hold worlds, a paradise so recently lost. ‘of a certain age’ brings one along by the hand to see what was and what remains. It moved me again towards Frost, and the stanzas:
    “. . . And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
    No longer blown hither and thither;
    The last lone aster is gone;
    The flowers of the witch hazel wither;
    The heart is still aching to seek,
    But the feet question ‘Whither?’

    Ah, when to the heart of man
    Was it ever less than a treason
    To go with the drift of things,
    To yield with a grace to reason,
    And bow and accept the end
    Of a love or a season? . . . ” (Reluctance, 1913)

    • Your comment here is so, so wonderful, and a gift, Lance.—

      Robert Frost and I are now sitting here on a Saturday morning in August, blogging and weeping together…

      What a very dear friend you have come to be….

      Thank you.

  10. A wonderful poem, but it continually shrouds me in sorrow. But that’s OK because you have captured an important point in life. So, I wonder – If I recall, your father ran a funeral home. Did your experience influence this poem?

    • It’s probably the case that my experiences growing up in great familiarity with a funeral home gives me a less than sentimental outlook on that whole business, but no, this poem had nothing to do with that.

      This poem is about one unique experience of dealing with the sudden loss of a loved one, and tries to express it through all the small, mundane “things” we deal with at a time like that.

      Also, how the “things” of a lost loved one, the belongings, seem to take on a life of their own.

      It avoids all the big abstract words you always hear on the subject of death, and sticks with earrings and a shirt instead….which end up being the things that carry the load of grief for us.

      The poem plays on words —those “patient’s belongings” containers that hospitals put your stuff in—and the “patience” of those belongings of the deceased that remain with us almost as if we or they are patiently waiting for the lost one to come back.

      The poem was my way of processing a terrible time, Frank, and sharing it with those who understand the experience and our common human encounter with it.

      • Many thanks for your thoughtful explanation. I related to the box … the things … the meaningful nature that is within one. I imagine most of us can related to this. Well done.

  11. Oh, this speaks so clearly to those who have ever lost anyone close to them. Absolutely love this Cynthia!! I like the way it reads definitely as poetry, and yet it could also so easily be a chapter from a book. You convey so well the hollowness that seems to permeate within those few items items left behind, and also the home. Something I felt at one time may never leave. But, for me at least, it’s not quite so harsh now.

    • I think you’re right, Suzy, especially about the sense that it will never leave…and in a way life is so changed that it gradually becomes “not a part of” life anymore, though it has changed many things forever. I sense it like a knife that grows dull and is rarely used anymore, still it stays there, in the drawer. It’s so good to see you back from your break. I look forward to the next issue of your literary magazine. Thanks for stopping by. I always enjoy your comments!

  12. I couldn’t read this one in your book. Well, of course I did actually read it: I mean that I read it and moved on hurriedly. I have wished so much I could have written poetry about Stringer; but one has to acknowledge one’s abilities and be limited by them.
    I could never have written so bravely.

    • I truly understand, M-R. It has taken me two years to be able to read it aloud for an audio recording. I don’t even know why I cared to do that, but I did. It’s a kind of step forward, I guess, although now that I’ve recorded it, I can’t bear to listen to it!
      Your own book is your wonderful poem about Stringer, in my estimation. Only you could have written it, and that very beautiful story could only exist because you did.
      Perhaps not many have been privileged with a truly great sustaining, long-term, deep-friend-love in this crazy world, and do not understand the personal gut devastation of that loss. it is not simple, or typical. It even becomes difficult to hear what sounds like understanding, but you know it isn’t. All I can say is that I’m with yer, mate, for whatever that’s worth! Thanks for continuing to read. 🙂 XO

      • I’m no masochist: why WOULDN’T I read your extraordinary work ?
        Thank you for sharing these thoughts with me, Cynthia, and for your words re Atlmd !

  13. A very moving poem, Cynthia. My mum died in 2006, my dad in 2012, and my prose-poem about them, ‘Twin Dakotas’, has become a standard at practically every reading I do, always, unavoidably, with a slight catch in the throat… Yes, your beautiful poem will have meaning for many.


    • Yes, sometimes it’s not possible to read one’s poem aloud on this topic. Both my parents died in the 1990’s. Then I didn’t begin to know what loss of a lifelong partner would be like, though I always feared it…I came to know the ineffability of that one in August of 2010. This is one of many poems trying to exorcise that demon. Thank you for your kind words, Paul

  14. It was hard to read this poem the first time in your book, but hearing your voice – the fact of the matter reading it moved me right to tears. The painful loss that sits, well we like to think in the back, but always on the edge. Thank you Cynthia for sharing with us those pieces which are so raw and deep with emotion. Thinking of you today makes me grateful for having the immense pleasure of reading your works and having you as a friend – I learn from each of your writings how precious our ordinary life is around us.

    • So many of our days are involved with denying the ordinary, hoping that something surreal, something “post modern”, something philosophical and “important” will manifest itself, that we miss where we are, who we are, what actually happens. Lots of people find it important to make ordinary people unimportant in this life….but that is their problem. You’re there, in your personal space, making the beautiful oil pastels that you make…and that, in my estimation is the best happiness against the sadness of death. Thank you, Mary

  15. Hello Cynthia,heart wrenching thoughts about the the one who was gone, departure at the airport ,but there was no jet plane ,it was in the hospital the suite cases ,only a plastic container with the patient ‘s belonging ,forgot the name.Jalal

  16. A beautiful poem, heart wrenching and hopeful. The image of the shirt in the closet speaks to me of resurrection and rebirth, the closet like a tomb and the shirt like death clothes inhabited, perhaps, by spirit and purpose…waiting.

    • How nice to find your comment here, Laura. I think we are followers of several blogs in common, including the painters, Lance and Mary. There was a time when “create art every day” was definitely my schedule, as I worked in calligraphy and watercolor. Now I’ve pretty much dedicated my time to poetry—create-all-the-time, even when doing other things! My drawing and painting, as an amateur, still keep me grounded, as a kind of zen. Thanks for your kind words about this poem. I will be over to browse at Createarteveryday soon!

  17. Oh, Cynthia, how sad. I love how you’ve evoked this departed person in the “cobalt blue kimono”. It’s the sight of these personal things that can really do our heads in. After my father died, I was helping my mum clear out one of his cupboards and found his favourite cap he wore when tinkering in his workshop. It tipped me over the edge into an almost uncontrollable sobbing. Love this poem.

    • You obviously understand this from a deep experiential place of your own. And though it is, very sad, there’s something to be said for sharing that understanding. Thanks, beeblu, very much.

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