I charge this poem to keep the posture of dying.
A student of mine dies of cancer this Tuesday evening
and I say ‘a minute silence for the dead’
and the silence and his ghost crawl out the window as someone whimpers.
I have grown flaccid with so much grief I am
on the crashing side of the arc of memory.
The aim of pain is that we feel it.
The similarity between grief and pain is that neither can be imagined.
My grandmother used to feed the roosters behind the almond tree
to feed her hunger for the children she lost in the voice box of a war.
When she got blind, the roosters died in her sleep.
I swear, we are in the habit of giving care we cannot perfect —
my grandmother feeding three men no longer children
fifteen years after a war she no longer remembers.
Some nights, their names return to her like childhood music
and she whispers them to the walls if only to leave imprints
the way memory stains a room we recognize.
I’m sorry walls do not remember what shadows walked by them.
Grief leaves everyone behind.
I owe so much in the currency of grief it is a miracle I stayed
in a name and it did not cough me up the way water remembers people it lost.
It is a miracle I can still throat a prayer and not kill language mid way.
Once I saw a man speak to me through the rear mirror of a jerking bus,
his words falling like seeds to the call of wind
but I pretend I am a deaf city with no one to call me awake.
I was shaking because someone from a past memory had died
and I didn’t know where I was going anymore.
By default, I christen everyone dead until proven otherwise
so that if we meet again I pretend they are ghosts from my past.
Memory from the teeth is the most benevolent.
My mother in purple draped over my sister’s bleeding body
the way a wound covers the skin.
The gun wound the shape of a pearl missing in blood.
I do not lose my sister,
but I lose the bone with which to feel for joy happier than hunger.
The longest side of the angle of grief is the hyperventilation.
Satre was right when he spoke of the existential door.
In all our lives there is an unopened door the shape of longing
two times it overloads that we must knife through with our softest parts.
Once when my memory was thirteen I ran into a door head first
and I learnt to sit still in the rhythm of scars.
The door of life demands to scar us.
I can still smell loneliness from five years away. I deviate.
I deeply suspect grief to be a state of unbeing.
To restart this poem I begin barefoot in a garden of king protea.
I lost my way here from the languageless part of my childhood.
Here, there is a man I do not recognize drawing his last breath
and everything so still the flowers die thinking it’s the moment of their plucking.
I confess to losing the way language loses to the tongue each time,
the way a shadow loses to light it does not remember.
Grief is a sum total of all possible sorrows.
Once, like every good daughter, I dragged my mother from a burning building.
There was a stream on her face and from where I stood the water was on fire in her.
My mother’s body is a magpie collecting treasures of a dead man
Who visits his room every evening and keeps forgetting his scent.
I didn’t know grief was the only true archetype.
A boy runs from war with the body of his dead brother for three days.
He forgets there is a weight not his he carries.
The body becomes his body; the scent his scent;
the death his death; the god his god.
When he is asked to let the body of his brother into the sea,
he says too softly it is not heavy.
The Chinese character for fate is the same for order.
The Chinese character for pain is the same for love.
The Chinese character for loss is the same for transport.
The Chinese character for grief is the same for a worse kind of grief.