On Grief

Life is loss, she said
Into the darkness of her pain, the room
a haze of cigarette smoke.
You’re wrong, I insisted
To this woman, my mother, crumpled
like wet laundry
on her bed.

She was still young
perhaps 32,
carrying grief
like a burden on her back
crushing her breath and
she would not rise
except to light another Winston.

I was young then
10 or 11
Too early to know grief.
You’re wrong, I argued,
Can’t you see the joy,
the love surrounding us
you and me and Judy?

I crept away as she was swept away
Into a coma of her drugs and sleep.

Older now, even old,
and now I know grief

Grief and I are allies.

My sister was my first ally
before death snatched her
to the comfort of oblivion,
because you don’t believe in that heaven crap,
she would say.
I hear her now.

I hang my grief out to dry
like wet laundry
in the sunshine
to be bleached
by the sun and trembling air,
And then worn again.

Damp or dry
Grief is the gift
That keeps on giving!
Keeps the dead in vividness alive,
an aura,
a haze of longing and breathlessness.

I see my sister’s crinkly grin in
Her Betty Crocker kitchen
and hear her drastic mouth
When she can’t find her hairbrush,
Or cursing as she battles for justice
When her boiler explodes.

And again I hang my grief out to dry.

She dies on a windy Wednesday,
my sister, the warrior.
The hospice lady wraps my sister’s ropey hands
Still warm, around a flower from her garden.
(I don’t remember the color or kind.)

I sit beside her,
She’s a parody of repose,
I watch her not breathe
I touch her face, her hands, still warm, cooling now.
(At times I’m sure I see her chest rise and fall.)

Alone in her sunny room, I study her,
I try to imagine a life without her,
and fail.
My body chills,
My limbs are stone,
I snap her photo with my iPhone.

Forever her protector, I couldn’t save her.
Eaten alive by the tumor inside
This lifelong warrior refused to surrender
To the injustice of cancer.
(She never knew defeat until now.)

Darkness rises at the bedroom windows
But time stands still at my sister’s bedside

Even the tumor stops growing, and
I marvel at my own uncanny thoughts.
No tears yet; the dam breaks later.

Men come to take the body away
With practiced hands, they swaddle her like a child
“Was she your mother?” they ask,
But I am stiff; I cannot speak.
She is my baby sister.

What is left to memory when she is gone?
The empty space she once commanded.
And a vastness of disbelief and grief
to flood and follow me wherever I go.
The tears will drown me again and again.

I wish I believed in spirits because I feel her nearby,
She is here and not here,
I wish I believed in heaven because I could see her there.
We sisters judged believers as pathetic, weak, though
when we were children we fled to imaginary worlds
to escape brutalities in the real world.
Yet at the end she said she would watch over her children.

She dies more every day,
I yearn for her voice, her laugh, her cussing and tears
The memories tarnishing, depixelating.
She sneaks into corners like dust bunnies,
Waiting to be collected and treasured forever.