On Friday, 27 April 2018, at around 1330, my sweet grandmother left this life. She was peacefully asleep, morphine dripping into her veins to dull the ache of broken ribs and failing organs. She was surrounded by her four children, her husband, and many of her grandchildren, all of whom had been sitting vigil in some capacity since Sunday, when she was admitted after a terrible fall in her home.
On Friday, 27 April 2018, at around 2030, I performed as part of the Dallas Poetry Project’s Common Language event at Arts Mission Oak Cliff in Dallas, TX. My poem, “A Guide for the Visitors of Solovetsky Monastery,” was selected as one of the top ten winners of the Writer’s Garret’s 2018 Common Language Project. A free anthology of the top thirty poems can be found on the Writer’s Garret’s website in a downloadable PDF format.
Mercifully, my poem is not about me or my emotions – though it is about grief, and the past, and walls and waves. Having the performance gave my mind something to focus on, a pinprick of light haloed in Gaussian blur. But once I was finished, and returned to my place in the audience, pain crept into my spine and knees, and my mind drifted into the salt and sand, the rush of crushing surf. I am still there; it leaves my skin chapped and scraped, eyes red, every curve touched in some way by the ebb and flow.
How do I reconcile my joy with my mourning? Are either my true state of feeling, are both, are neither? Does their contradiction say something about who I am, that both live in me at once? Are they even really contradictions, or are they two halves of my whole, codependent? Must I know one to know the other? Must my mourning only be tears, and sadness, and darkness? Or can I know my grief in the light, in the celebration, in the blessing?
I struggle to not feel guilty, even while knowing she would being taking me to Red Lobster right now if she could, that she’d never want me to ignore this good news to live in my loss of her. But how can I not live in my loss of her? This woman whom I spent many summers living with, even as recently as 2016. This woman who was the apex of all of us, the center of this familial universe, a sun in a red dress. She introduced me to mysteries, watched hours of Murder, She Wrote with me, played Mexican Train and Scrabble until the sun came up. She would make me bacon in the mornings, treat me to crab legs after school during my senior year, let me sleep in the “kid’s room” (as she called it) when my mother and I didn’t see eye to eye. I could go on and on and on — and how dare I not?
In some ways, I feel like I am defying the laws of physics, for I am in two places at the same time — the bright, warm world of personal success, and the quiet grey of lament.