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Meditations in Grief

poem as an invitation

It’s hard & it hurts & it feels

like time should collapse upon itself.

It’s hard / it’s hard / it’s hard.

This missing of someone. This

Desire for a hug. For another dance.

Stay with me. Return to me.

Let us meet again. Say hello. Please.

I never know how to hold the pain when it comes flooding in.

I’m stuck with simple words stumbling over one another on their way to the page. It’s hard shows up frequently. Because grief, more like surviving grief, feels too giant to handle alone. I wonder if it’ll ever get easier. Maybe that’s not the point. Maybe such a goal is useless. Who knows? All I really know is that poetry helps. My own lines included. I hope you can stay. Especially if you’re also climbing what feels like an insurmountable ache. Even if it isn’t the most important thing on your to-do list today, I hope you can sit with me in this space. If only for a little bit.


this is not a poem, but maybe it should be

Did you know that cemeteries have ratings? I didn’t.

I only found out a few weeks ago. An accidental surprise if you will. One second I was verifying the operating hours of my Papi’s cemetery, and the next I was scrolling through reviews of the place. Wild when you think about it. A side effect of capitalism? Probably.

I’m thinking now of Kevin Young’s poem, “Grief

“In the night I brush

my teeth with a razor”

How it feels like there’s a razor cutting up my teeth. It’s in my gums. Blood’s everywhere. Real messy. Thinking of how poems can comfort you, help you work through a feeling, and show that you’re not alone in your pain. How useful that all is, but also, how they can help you name a thing you don’t yet have words for. A thing like grief. I probably won’t ever meet Kevin Young, but I’m thankful for this poem. Thankful for what it says and all that it gestures towards.

Grief isn’t new to me. It isn’t new as a concept at all. It’s old. Like an ancient myth (some would say a curse). And yet, even with all that time, when I saw that 4.3-star rating along with all those reviews, I turned my phone off.

I hate surprises.

I can’t tell you what I did that night or what I thought or if I spoke to anyone, but I can imagine it felt a lot like taking a razor to my teeth. I took a screenshot of the rating and some of the reviews the next day. I have them still. I keep them to show them to someone the next time they bring up the five stages of grief. Where do cemetery ratings fall? Under which category can you neatly box them into? The stages fall short for me. They don’t help me wade through the ache, but poems do. Sharing words has helped me far more than any superficial mention of the five stages ever could.

Poems, I’m finding, are like friends.

Really good friends. Friends who drive to your house to drop off coffee when you tell them you’re tired; who buy stamps to mail you letters because they know you favor handwritten notes; who make playlists for you to listen to when you miss them; who send you photos of all the pretty things they encounter. Friends who call you up to say I love you. They friend you back to life.

When I told a few of my friends about the rating, they said, that doesn’t make sense. One hearted the message and replied with her own red heart emoji. The other called me to check in. Why are you looking at ratings of your dad’s cemetery?

I don’t know. But a 4.3 is good, right?


poem through which we can meet the dead again

In “Tomorrow is a Place,” Sanna Wani writes, “I’m obsessed with my / grief.” These days it feels like I am too. As I’m writing this, the United States has surpassed 600,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths. An obsession with grief, in this moment, isn’t cause for worry. Rather the opposite, ignoring the reality of such an immense loss, is worrisome. In the poem, a friend replies, “I am always in mourning.” Says, “Most days are better with a long walk.” I like to link the two. To think of mourning as something that makes spaces for movement. Walking, yes, and everything else. This writing. You reading this. The many poems I’ve thrown myself into as a way to mitigate the loss. I read Wani’s poem the same week I lost Chente, a dear friend of mine. Held onto the last few lines. My very own lifeline to this existence. Wani writes,

“[there are] Steadier ways to move through the world and we are learning / them. A way to touch your own body. A touch that says, Dig deeper. There, in the / ground, there is our memory. I am near enough roots. Time is my friend. Tomorrow / is a place we are together.”

I have this recurring dream of Chente. He’s dressed as a monarch butterfly. Giant orange wings swaying in time with his arms. He’s swirling around to his chosen rhythm. It’s cold and we’re outside for some reason. Right as I’m about to suggest we go somewhere warmer he takes my hands in his and spins me. A warmth spreads from our hands to the rest of us like a hug. I’m no longer cold. He’s smiling. It’s a good dream.

We are learning how to move through this world. Learning how to move through our own personal griefs. Maybe if time really is my friend, I can bend it enough to meet those gone again. I can make it to a tomorrow where we are together. And if not tomorrow, then the next one and the one after and so forth until it arrives.

Poetry gives me this space. Even if it is imagined. Perhaps the imagining is what makes it bearable. Who do we become if we stop imagining?

I don’t want to find out.


poem as thank you for staying

When it all gets too heavy, I read a poem. I take whatever will have me. Whatever nods back. It helps. It doesn’t make it easier, but somehow between the moment my brain gets too loud to the last line of a poem, the weight isn’t so heavy. It’s as if the poem takes on some of the heaviness with every line I read.

I’ll leave you with one I return to often these days.

Meditations in an Emergency

I wake up & it breaks my heart. I draw the blinds

& the thrill of rain breaks my heart. I go outside.

I ride the train, walk among the buildings, men in

Monday suits. The flight of doves, the city of tents

beneath the underpass, the huddles mass, old

women hawking roses, & children all of them,

break my heart. There’s a dream I have in which I

love the world. I run from end to end like fingers

through her hair. There are no borders, only wind.

Like you, I was born. Like you, I was raised in the

institution of dreaming. Hand on my heart. Hand

on my stupid heart.

I still don’t know how to hold all the pain when it comes flooding in. But when it arrives and tries to sweep me away, I hold my hand on my heart. Hand on my stupid heart.

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