Magnified is a collection of elegiac poems written by Minnie Bruce Pratt “in memoriam” to her lover, Leslie Feinberg; most were written during the year preceding Feinberg’s death. The work is exemplary of what is known in end-of-life care as anticipatory grief—the period of time before the death of a loved one that allows for completing tasks that surround saying goodbye. I’ve never read a more all-encompassing or exquisitely rendered work of grief. Or one that so tenderly portrays a deeply loving relationship.
In remembrance, Pratt confesses, “Once in a blue moon a love like this comes along”; in gratefulness, she depicts their life together as “[w]e have had this day, and now this night”; in angst, she describes her own life as being “in the hallway of a life without you”; in frustration she laments, “I hit save, save, save, but I can’t save everything.” And among the last of these poems, in the one called “In the End,” her grief is nearly wordless. “What is there left to say? In the end, you died.”
Pratt carved out time to write by taking walks; solitude allowed her to record intimate descriptions of the moment-by-moment rituals performed during those months, as the couple finds “the end close and closer.” The metaphor of water runs through many of these poems, water which is life itself, even as we cannot hold it in our hands, even as it changes from fluid to mist or ice. Rain is called forth in the poem “Now We Are Rushing”:
Water to water, every gesture lost in the torrent
that claims us, and these words all that’s left
of my bending over you every morning, this
morning, my mouth on your mouth, the unspoken,
the farewell, the truth that nothing of us will be left
to know the other.
In an interview with Hooper Schultz at Lambda Literary, Pratt conveys the experience of writing these poems:
“So, the poems came about because we were wrestling with a terrible illness […]. I began to walk outside every day when I wasn’t helping her. And I began to look, as I walked, for a poem. Some image, some metaphor, some words to help me keep going.”
The poems follow the seasons of this preciously-held year. There is a deep attentiveness to the world outside of the apartment she shares with Feinberg that nevertheless always translate into harbinger and metaphor. In spring, the season “when we saw you were beginning to die,” Pratt writes of how “the cracked, parched lips of frozen ground/ parted to the thawing rain.”
In fall, she finds “no snow, no bloom, the world is brown, / tattered, nothing to read in the dead leaves.” In winter, she walks “among the snow boulders on this block before dawn,” with “boots with cleats that dig into the glazed ice, / new-fallen snow, old ice lying underneath.”
In “Cedar, Arbor Vitae,” a hawk becomes a harbinger of what lies ahead:
The broken hawk lurches across dangerous space
toward the cedar shade, into the dark-green
fingers, and then its pale breast and feathers seem
no more than a glimmer of snow about to melt
and fall to the ground, gone into blue shadow.
In “The Gulls Cry,” spring renewal does not bring hope, only anticipation of the impending loss:
it’s me, only me, trying to
rejoice three days after snow has vanished every-
where, from the ground, from these poems,
as nibs of grass green the brown, ready to begin
their story again. Even as I stand and look down
at the muddy ground, unable to imagine how
I will go on without you.
Pratt continues her daily obligations while tending to her lover’s bodily and spiritual gestures. She cares for herself by going outdoors daily with her “palm notebook” in hand to write “over illegible / loneliness.” The remembrance of this couple’s relationship is heart-breaking. Every poem in Magnified sanctifies “[t]he unseen work of staying alive.”
Photo credit: Marilyn Humphries