Mark Doty on Grief

I saw this in a recent Tricycle magazine article. It struck me because in the last few weeks I’ve had more than one dream about my best friend. I’ll put both the link and the excerpt here. I have a lot of things brewing to write about but just no time currently –soon.

For now.
Mark Doty:

The poem I think you’re referring to, “Mercy on Broadway,” was written a couple of years after the death of my partner, Wally Roberts. We’d been together almost a dozen years, and I could never have imagined that an epidemic would take him away. I thought we’d probably be together all our lives, and when he was gone I couldn’t imagine myself being able to love again. I remember distinctly seeing lovers in the street, couples touching or holding hands and thinking, Don’t they know? Where could love lead except to disaster?

Koshin Paley Ellison: But that poem takes such a different direction!

Mark Doty: It was about a year and a half later when I found myself beginning to care rather more than I’d expected for a friend whom I’d come to see in a new light. I was walking on Broadway one day in SoHo and came upon an Asian woman who was sitting on the sidewalk selling, of all things, tiny green turtles. She had them contained in a big white enamel bowl, and the little things were climbing over each other trying to get out, then sliding back down into the bowl again once they made it a ways up toward the rim. They were so beautiful—brilliantly green—and seemed so absurdly fragile; how could anything that tiny make it in New York City? I couldn’t forget them, and later found myself beginning to describe them. That’s how poems usually start for me: I begin with a description of some little thing that’s moved or interested me, and then, if I’m lucky, the process of writing teaches me why whatever it is matters. The turtles were such a potent image of ourselves: our incredible human persistence despite our frailty. We want to connect, to love, to move forward—we will climb up the sides of that bowl no matter what!

Robert Chodo Campbell: In the recent film written by Cormac McCarthy, The Counselor, he writes that grief has no value. Can you speak about the value of grief in your personal and poetic life?

MD: Grief does not seem to me to be a choice. Whether or not you think grief has value, you will lose what matters to you. The world will break your heart. So I think we’d better look at what grief might offer us. It’s like what Rilke says about self-doubt: it is not going to go away, and therefore you need to think about how it might become your ally.

Grief might be, in some ways, the long aftermath of love, the internal work of knowing, holding, more fully valuing what we have lost. I am always flummoxed and a bit amazed by the prevalence of the notion of “letting go.” Do we let go of the dead? Do we actually relinquish the connections and bonds that have been shaped? Or is it more like those bonds remain a part of us, become more internal? I think one’s wounds are ultimately so essentially a part of who one is that the self would be unrecognizable without them.

* * *

The Embrace

You weren’t well or really ill yet either;
just a little tired, your handsomeness
tinged by grief or anticipation, which brought
to your face a thoughtful, deepening grace.

I didn’t for a moment doubt you were dead.
I knew that to be true still, even in the dream.
You’d been out—at work maybe?—
having a good day, almost energetic.

We seemed to be moving from some old house
where we’d lived, boxes everywhere, things
in disarray: that was the story of my dream,
but even asleep I was shocked out of the narrative

by your face, the physical fact of your face:
inches from mine, smooth-shaven, loving, alert.
Why so difficult, remembering the actual look
of you? Without a photograph, without strain?

So when I saw your unguarded, reliable face,
your unmistakable gaze opening all the warmth
and clarity of you—warm brown tea—we held
each other for the time the dream allowed.

Bless you. You came back, so I could see you
once more, plainly, so I could rest against you
without thinking this happiness lessened anything,
without thinking you were alive again.

http://www.tricycle.com/blog/dont-they-know
And the link to the full article :

6 responses

  1. So beautiful, so true. We’re coming on the 9th anniversary of my brother-in-law’s death, and I remember my sister talking about dreams she had of him, like this, during the first year after his death.

    • It really is quite remarkable. I have had at least two striking dreams. A few more that were more unsettling. But two really wonderful heart warming dreams.

  2. A lot of things stood out for me. Just one: ” Do we let go of the dead? Do we actually relinquish the connections and bonds that have been shaped? Or is it more like those bonds remain a part of us, become more internal? I think one’s wounds are ultimately so essentially a part of who one is that the self would be unrecognizable without them.” I like this part. I often see this connection with women who have suffered infant loss. Not that we as a society really embrace this idea, but it’s the truth. There are so many cultures that keep their ancestors as part of their lives (ie. Day of the Dead) but we’re so uncomfortable with death.

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