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June 14, 2011

"With every death, we learn a new language"

Note: In this post, you'll find an allusion to Wallace Stevens' famous poem,"Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird."  Click on "poem" above to read.


The following poem by Jessica Goody is as much a journey as it is a work of literature. The poem is  a testament to her experience of loss, a tribute to her father, and an invitation for us to join her, as did the "thirteen black birds."
13 Blackbirds by Gabrielle Anderman*, 2007
I enjoy this poem immensely. It is full of right-in-the-moment presence,  it touches lightly on  memories and looks at loss without sentiment, but with certain feeling. It also traces the thought process that one so often has after losing a loved one....the thoughts bounce, as though trying to connect the dots in a child's coloring book. In this deeply thoughtful and aware poem, they do: they do connect the dots, without "closing" the image.  You'll see what I mean, when you read ...

The Left-Behinds
by Jessica Goody
--Once again, to Pa

When you died,
We went to the cemetery.
We put dirt in your coffin
and stones on your grave.

We planted a boxy shrub
to upholster your burial site,
to keep you company
and keep you warm.
Greenly, it would keep whatever secrets
You cared to whisper.

There were no Chinese horses
standing vigil,
but we dropped handfuls of Kisses,
milk chocolate, your favorite,
at your feet.
The metallic foil
Glinted in the dirt,
The little paper topknots
Waving in the breeze.
There were thirteen blackbirds
On the front lawn
The day of your funeral.
You would have been pleased, I think
By such a send-off.
You died on a Friday, were buried on Sunday.
It seemed appropriate.

If there are thirteen ways
Of looking at a blackbird,
All bases were covered that day,
Each bird staring, onyx-eyed
Into the abyss of death.
It doesn’t scare them.
I like to think of your soul
Escorted by blackbirds
As you made your ascent.
Your birthday and Father’s Day
Were usually one and the same.
I always thought that was appropos,
Like God had decided that
your most important contribution in life
was your occupation as Pa,
an abbreviation of Grandpa,
the way you always signed your cards to us.
It wasn’t until I was grown that it occurred to me
That Pa was just another way of saying father.

In the letter you left me,
You told me a metaphor:
Fire-forged swords are the strongest.
I had been forged in the fire.
Some days I feel
Like I have disappointed you;
Haven’t lived up to my potential.

I can imagine you
Telling me that the succubus in my head
Could be shrugged off with a little effort.
My guilt scratched at me.
I know now that isn’t true;
I suppose I was projecting.
You were endlessly accepting of me.
I’m grateful.

But I resent that we are forced
To commune now
By synchronicity and symbol,
Rather than hugs and questions,
Make-believes that we both
felt the need to inhabit,
which seemed more important
than reality.

What happens to the left-behinds,
The population forced
To communicate with ghosts?
With every death,
we learn a new language.
We are initiated into a commune of those
left grasping, seeking something
to fill the blankness where loved ones
were cut out of us like a paper doll,
leaving a human-shaped void         
And finding nothing until memories recede a little,
make the empty table setting, the hollow chair
where you used to sit
A little more bearable.

Spirits come to protect us from the loneliness.
I thought you had been reincarnated into my cat,
Spirit-jumping like a shaman.
You shared her smile, her green eyes
And her fierce protectiveness.
Did you imagine golden birds?

Jessica Goody’s work has appeared in New York newspapers, the anthologies Timepieces, Seasons of Change, Moonlight Café’s Poetry by Moonlight, & The Sun Magazine. A featured poetess of, her work has appeared on the blogs, Addictive Fiction, Riot Grrl Online, and Poetica Magazine. She has written a volume of poetry, a mystery novella, The Stardust Room & Absolutely Audrey, a compendium on Audrey Hepburn.
*Gabrielle Anderman is an artist from Northern California currently living on  Maui. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate 
from UCLA's School of the Arts, Gabby studied with noted artists including Lari Pittman, Barbara Drucker and
Roger Herman. She also spent a year studying at the Beaux Arts schools in Pau  and Paris. Gabby works with
charcoal & pencil on paper, acrylics on paper & canvas and mixed media on canvas.

Photo byYsabel de la Rosa

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