We began the new year with our family of four tending a giant bonfire in the snowy field. The next day I wrote a poem honoring my grandmother, thinking of how our dead beloveds make us even more ourselves.
When I say Happy New Year,
I hear my grandmother’s voice
inside my voice, the way
she slapped the first syllable,
the way silence hung for a moment
before she finished the rest of the phrase. HAP-py New Year! Each time I say the words, she
is so alive in that moment—
the syllables themselves
wear her bright red nails,
her signature updo
and her rhinestone earrings.
HAP-py New Year!
I sing out again and again,
loving how she enters
each conversation this day.
There are small ways
to bring our beloveds back,
little rituals so strong they
defy the loss, so strong
that each time we do them
we become more and more
who we love. Her voice
becomes my voice and her
joy becomes my joy.
I don’t have to look in the mirror
to see she is here, her smile
my smile curving up from the inside.
I have always been obsessed with shadows. My son was drawn to shadows, too—“shadow” was his first word. And in the early part of the year, I imagined wrestling with my shadow and what might come of it.
May I not only see my own shadow
but may I let it wrestle me
the way an angel once met Jacob
then wrestled him till dawn.
May we scrabble and scrap
until I am trembling, exhausted,
until the shadow dislocates what I think I know
about how to move through the world,
until panting I beg it to bless me,
cling to it until it gives me a new name.
I want to know everything
I am capable of—the destruction,
the ferocity, the benediction.
I don’t need to know the weather.
I just want to know that I can meet
whatever comes, even
the darkest parts of myself,
and learn from them,
then limp into the daylight
toward healing, toward wholeness.
In early April, our family went camping in the desert and there we found hundreds of pot shards from the Ancestral Puebloans.
April 10, 2021
delighted by pot shards—
could I find my own brokenness
At the end of summer, our family travelled to Rome, Georgia, to help my mom and dad move into an independent living residence. On our way there, we stopped in Denver to be with my husband’s grown daughter—it would be the last time our family was all together. A few nights later, I wrote a poem about walking with my son—a magic and totally unremarkable moment.
When in Rome
What a loss it would be
to not have born so I
would have missed a
Thursday night like this
in which my son and I
walk the dark streets
in Georgia and watch
the lightning transform
the sky into pink flares
and smell some sweet
unnamable flower and
talk about Dodge Chargers
and knees and roaches—
I swear it has all been
worth it, every second
of fifty-one years, for this
hour in which there
are no bells, no shoulds,
no other tugs except
to take the next step
down the centerline
while in the distance,
raps another clap
On August 14, 2021, my son chose to take his own life. He would have been seventeen less than a month later. I wrote in a letter to one of his mentors: It was something I have known about Finn since he was born. He carried inside him a deep unease, a lack of peace. He expected so much of the world—he wanted everyone to be as dedicated and as 150% as he was. He shined so brightly, I believe, because he had to summon that much luminosity just to meet the darkness that was ever inside him. And so although the inner struggle is what eventually killed him, I refuse to vilify it, because it is also what shaped him into the radiant and magical being he was. He lived such a big, rich, full life. He gave everything. Everything. He was a comet. Astonishingly brilliant and then gone. My son’s death was a giant invitation to meet life in a new way—to be wildly open to everything.
Today the heart is full of ghosts—
one doing backflips and one
eating ice cream and one throwing
rocks in the river. One drops
a camera into a lily pond while trying
to take a picture. One peels apples
and one rides on my hip and one
sings country songs. One lights a candle
and one blows it out and one spends hours
arguing about which of the ghosts is most right.
And one is never satisfied. And one
has a thousand dull gray eyes. And one, one whispers, I’ve got this, Mom.
And I turn to them all, one at a time,
and say welcome, you’re all welcome here.
Even the ghost who slams the door.
Even the ghost who bristles, who swears.
Ghost playing drums. Ghost aiming
nerf guns. Ghost wearing button down shirts.
Ghost with a brain made for zeros and ones.
Ghost with hands in the dirt.
And the heart expands to hold them all—
or were its corridors already stretched?
Straight A ghost. Red canoe ghost. Ghost
of the man I’ll never know. Ghost
who sits beside me at the table,
who says nothing, sipping sweet tea.
Ghost who tucks me into bed, then
slips into my dreams.
A few months after my son’s death, my beloved father also passed away. I find it interesting that the year began with a poem and awareness of how our loved ones inform us after their deaths. This year, with the deaths of my son and my father, I have found I am much less who I thought I was and much more something infinite. Something that communes with the everything, something that communes with them. Their deaths have become an encouragement to be my best self and to live in service to the world.
There is Only the Field
On the day my father begins hospice,
I watch the pronghorn in the field,
marvel as their brown- and white-striped bodies
nearly disappear in the dead grass where
they graze. If only I could camouflage
my father so death can’t find him, so that pain
would never have discovered him.
Tomorrow, my mother and brother and I
will gather around him the way a herd
might gather, circling him as some antelope
circle their young. But death will come.
And we, unable to run fast enough,
unable to hide, will meet it together.
And if I could fight death, would I? Whatever horns
I have are more for ritual than dangerous.
When death arrives, I want to bring
my softest self. I won’t bargain,
but I’ll tell death it’s taking the best of us—
the one who worked hardest to survive.
When death arrives, I want to ask it, Please,
be gentle. He suffered so much already.
I want to tell death, You don’t get all of him.
I carry in me his goodness, his courage.
While I live, he will always be alive in this field.
Though I took this photo in the beginning of the year, it resonates with a vision I had only recently—the poem describes this—and it seems to bring this year almost full circle. Though it has been a year of unfathomable loss, it has also invited an unfathomable grace. Despite grief (because grief?), I have never loved life more. My goal for 2022 and beyond is to stay open, to be of service, and to continue to learn how it is that love is everything.
Three Months after His Death
Let’s say there’s a window
at the end of a long dark hall—
the more we walk toward it
the farther away it feels.
And then, let’s say, we stop
trying to get anywhere and meet
where we are. That is how
I found myself on the other side
of the window, released
into sky—blue sky, then tangerine
sky, then sky dusky pink.
That is how I found myself
talking with my son the way
we used to whenever he went
to camp—through the sky.
Only this time we didn’t talk.
We just were. Together.
I would say we were fused,
but more truly, perhaps, commingled,
as if our atoms were diffused enough
to commune. To know this
for a moment is to know it
forever—how it is that
there is no separation.
How it is that we are one.
Time Capsule 2021 is a series where I invite artists, poets, photographers and people who have inspired me through the year to give our readers a glimpse of their year that was.