(We’ve just had Memorial Day, here in the USA, when we especially commemorate those who have died fighting our wars, and we place flowers, as well, on the graves of all of our deceased loved ones.)


The wheel turns once again to this:
the image of your going
that appalling, horrid yesterday.
Old wounds stir beneath their scars
memories of anguish, fear, and disarray–
the sudden darkness
of your life’s closing parenthesis.

Yet anniversaries are not required
for our in memoriam
let those who think so
take their yearly flowers to your grave.
They’ll soon forget again. They do not know
the way you visit constantly
as earth, the air, the water, …fire…

as reminding, unseen amulet,
as the in-dwelling, the abruptly
disappearing dream at dawn,
the little pause over a cup at noon,
the lengthening shadow on the lawn—
in the gut-pull of gravity,
split-second, as each sinking sun is set.



63 responses »

  1. So true, and meaningful to me Cynthia. At times it seems the sun does not go down, but rather pauses for the sadness so that we may yet see there is a beautiful light, even in our loss.
    This is truly a wonderfully expressive and heart felt remembering. 💜

    • There does seem to be that moment of pause, doesn’t there….in the sinking of the sun below the horizon. Almost like a promise of the light saying “bye… but I’ll be back.” Thank you for all your kind words.

  2. What I like about this Cynthia is that it never directly says the meaning of the poem. The images are direct:
    Old wounds stir beneath their scars
    memories of anguish, fear, and disarray–
    the sudden darkness
    of your life’s closing parenthesis.
    But the meaning seems to me to be included in these lines:
    …They do not know
    the way you visit constantly
    as earth, the air, the water, …fire…
    The list at the end of the poem brings alive the meaning:
    …the abruptly
    disappearing dream at dawn,
    the little pause over a cup at noon,
    the lengthening shadow on the lawn—
    What is lost in memories of anguish, fear, and disarray, sudden darkness, lives within the spirit and manifests itself in the moments of life and the memories conjured by those moments.
    A lot of poets never reach the sophistication of a poem like this. They write directly of their experience, and their experience sometimes resonates into metaphor, but seldom reaches realization. This poem reaches realization, the reader is not surprised, I think, but the meaning expands into his mind and emotion. This expansion, realization, makes the poem.

    • The word “sophistication” gave me pause, as I read your explication of this poem, Thomas. I like it, for the simple reason that it reminds me of what a teacher once said to us, a group of budding poets: everyone hurts, loves, is exalted and disappointed by life; there’s nothing special in your feelings around all that. What can be special is what you ‘make” of it….and the poet— as the ancient greek root of the word would have it—is “a maker”. Perhaps that’s what you mean by expansion and realization, so I thank you. I am always interested and grateful for your kind and astute commentary.

      • I really like what your teacher said, Cynthia. Everyone has experienced most everything a poet can experience and felt what a human being can feel. It is what is transformed in crucible of craft that makes the poem, the expansion out of experience, emotion, and meaning into metaphor that enlightens some small part of human existence. Most of the poetry I read, and I read a lot of it, that is published today takes a moment out of the poet’s life and then uses language to tell of the moment and make something out of it: Meaning or metaphor or emotion. The better poets explore something deeper, making their poems more than the moment that is significant to them as human beings, using the craft of language to actually approach art.

  3. I am now reminded by your comment of the Lament for the Makers, which I like–and the idea of poet or artist as ‘makeris’. This though is about how we carry people with us, recall them, feel their presence in things. It is also succinct.

    • Ah, yes. ‘Makeris’, or Middle English ‘makar’ from Old French, via Latin, from Greek, where the word for poet was equivalent to ‘maker.’ I like the Lament for the Makers, too, though by the umpteenth repetition of “Timor mortis conturbat me” I fear death less than I am glad for the finish of the poem! It’s a virtue in a poem, for it to be succinct, I think, so thank you!

        • You could be right! I do check in to your blog now and then, and thoroughly enjoy what I consider your whirlwind of activity. You have a helluva lot more energy than I! (I tend to keep numbers down, on my reader, for the conservation of time and energy.) But I am especially fond of your verses….like the recent ANGRY one. You have such a smooth, enjoyable command of rhyme and meter. And, you are wise. 🙂

          • Thanks, Cynthia. i have this fear if I don’t keep writing every day that I’ll stop altogether. A common fear, I think, among writers that you seem to have conquered or never experienced as your product is always very fine indeed.

            • I think writing every day is one of the best things we can do, to keep the juices flowing. But I get lots of compost from it; and it takes time and a lot of compost to feed the small garden of finished work. There is always the fear, in dry spells, but the rains seem to come, eventually, when one least expects them. I remember reading in one of May Sarton’s late journals how if she could change something in the way she had conducted her life as a writer it would be to trust her vocation and “let life do it” more often.

              • That’s definitely what I’m doing. Writing more, nitpicking less. I have file cabinets of writing I should go through, rewrite, throw away, perhaps form into books… but I’d rather just keep writing and see what comes out. My whole life I felt guilty for not publishing and sending stuff out. Now I let myself be content with the blog. It is more rewarding than publishing ever was.. and immediate!

  4. grief is like the tide in that it pulls the ocean into the shore and then out again but never goes away. A memorial is a mark of respect and gratitude but grief needs no reminders. ❤

    • You have captured that very well, Sharon…the difference between grief and commemoration. I like how you think….and that image of the ocean tide is perfect to describe how grief seems to subside and then flows full back again.

  5. I believe sophistication in poetry or prose should be defined as simplicity of eloquence. I don’t dig obscurity for its own sake (for want of a better term) – that may be fine for academics, but over-blown sophistication is no substitute for speaking intelligently to people where they live (as you do),

    Speaking of digging, there will be no flowers on my grave, as I have chosen cremation (though I fully respect those can’t bear the thought). There is something to be said for gravesites as a place of remembrance for loved ones to give expression to their grief, and to begrudge them that need (not that you do), even if some will “soon forget,” is not a place I want to go.

    • I am in total agreement with your first paragraph here. It is the height of arrogance to purposefully make readers have to work and work to puzzle out what one is saying. The transgressive in visual art also has affected poetry, so that the more outlandish and improbable the images (they aren’t really metaphors) one can concoct, the more “sophisticated” the poetry is made to seem. And don’t get me started on the demise of the intelligible English sentence.

      As for graver matters, I am with you on the cremation choice. My Dad was an undertaker, funeral director when I was growing up. When he was old and dying, he asked us to choose cremation for him. He knew the funeral business and wanted none of it. It was a real scandal for a Catholic of his generation, at that time, in the small town where we lived. But I remember the priest telling me (totally lapsed in my own communion with the Church), as I made the final plans, that the Church had changed it’s views on cremation….it would be okay to have a memorial mass with the cremains present. “What we do want,” he said, is for there to be a burial of the ashes, in a place where loved ones can come to place a flower.”

  6. I certainly agree that anniversaries are not required – some losses are felt daily, in all the fleeting signals and moments you speak of, and others – and yet an anniversary still manages to lower the pain threshold, or raise anxiety levels.

    This is a beautiful poem, Cynthia. Your poetry never fails to capture both my imagination and emotion; a very good thing since I often find one running away without the other:)

  7. Very powerful … not only for Memorial Day, but for other anniversaries around the passing of someone close. And yes, thanks for forcing me to use the dictionary for amulet. 🙂

    • Always glad to spread new words around, Frank. 🙂 None of us will ever know all the words, but it’s fun to meet new ones, I think. Thank you for your comment….this was indeed originally written for a specific loss, but I thought it might serve the public occasion also.

  8. This is a most moving and powerful poem to which I keep returning. It delineates, what I consider, the best than one can hope for after the death of someone held very dear. The last verse reminded me of my mother, who died fifty years ago. I ‘celebrated’ by going back and reading some of her poems about death. Right now I am a bit teary but It was worthwhile.

    • You must have been young when your mother died…that’s really hard. I didn’t know she wrote poetry. Have you collected it in some sort of book form? That would be precious to your grandchildren, I imagine.

      • I never thought of putting her poems into a book, but you are right it would be a wonderful gift for the grandkids (her great grand kids) Thank you for this suggestion.

  9. Such an overpowering ode and a requiem, of a togetherness lingering beyond the confines of life and time:

    “the little pause over a cup at noon,
    the lengthening shadow on the lawn—
    in the gut-pull of gravity,
    split-second, as each sinking sun is set.”

    You have used but a clutch of words to express a seeming millennium of loss and remembrance. It left me speechless.

  10. 6/12 will now become a very sad day indeed and perhaps it’s what finally prompted me to come out of my own shadow and visit you here Cynthia – this one poem specifically. It’s how you express the damn grief that comes and stays – loud and quiet – each in our own way. I think of you as I read your words of pain and unsettled resignation that only this thing of finality can bring our way.

    • What a horror, to see and hear about, as I turned on the news this morning. It’s becoming ever more difficult not to live in fear. Thank you for coming to read, and for what you say. The love that we can experience is really the only true balm for suffering. And so I am grateful for friends like you, Mary.

  11. How true! I remember my father once saying that the memory of a loved one stays with us even when he is no longer with us. It may become dull, fade, but it never vanishes. And it does not need anything special, like flowers, to mark the occasion.

    • So much of conventional thinking about death and grief is really thinking that tries to define these things which no one can grasp….especially not anyone who is outside of the experience itself.

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