Death, Poetry, Memory

Earlier this week, North American Review posted my short prose piece on death, poetry, and memory: “An epidemic of deaths hit our family over the five years beginning in 2010. I lost three brothers, a niece, an aunt, two grand-nieces, and a grand-nephew. The youngest to die was one month old, and the oldest had just passed his fifty-sixth birthday. The door to my writing life cracked open to let death in as I tried to make sense of each new loss. . .

So why does death, or the fear of it, move us to make art? More thoughts here:

Here’s the poem that’s the subject of the blog entry.

Near-Elegy for Brother James

Just seven days ago, my palm 
consoled your shoulder blades, as if
it read your future. This year of deaths
is almost done, and you are not dead yet,

just out of ICU with kicked-in ribs,
an eyelid split, and still hung over.
The screen porch steams with sausage,
shrimp, and corn, our family celebrating

one more baby with a feast. Across
the dusty street, our little girls
collect the cotton bolls a combine
left behind, and bunch them up

in thorny, white bouquets. Our last
surviving brother picks guitar.
The baby’s grandma cannot stand
the travesty of nothing hard

to drink. She leaves. You stay. You’re quite
a trooper. You draw the line at
coming back indoors with me to hear
our newest mother’s poem on hope.

(P.S. Note the shout-out in the blog to Kim Bridgford’s excellent journal, Mezzo Cammin, where more of my elegies for family members are published.)