We take it into our hands like a rope

Marie Howe (1950-) has a way of capturing loss and grief, of describing what it is to live with–and beyond–sorrow, that has always resonated with me. If you enjoy this poem, I recommend not only reading her books (especially What the Living Do), but also listening to this podcast on “The Poetry of Ordinary Time,” in which she’s interviewed by Krista Tippett.


So now it has our complete attention, and we are made whole.
We take it into our hands like a rope, grateful and tethered,
freed from waiting for it to happen. It is here, precisely
as we imagined.

If the man has died, if the child’s illness has taken a sudden
turn, if the house has burned in the middle of the night
and in winter, there is at least a kind of stopping that will
pass for peace.

Now when we speak it is with a great seriousness, and when
we touch it is with our own fingers, and when we listen
it is with our big eyes that have looked at a thing
and have not blinked.

There is no longer any reason to distrust us. When it leaves
it will leave like summer, and we will remember it as a break
in something that had seemed as unrelenting as coming rain
and we will be sorry to see it go.

Hurry up now darling


We stop at the dry cleaners and the grocery store
and the gas station and the green market and
Hurry up honey, I say, hurry,
as she runs along two or three steps behind me
her blue jacket unzipped and her socks rolled down.

Where do I want her to hurry to? To her grave?
To mine? Where one day she might stand all grown?
Today, when all the errands are finally done, I say to her,
Honey I’m sorry I keep saying Hurry—
you walk ahead of me. You be the mother.

And, Hurry up, she says, over her shoulder, looking
back at me, laughing. Hurry up now darling, she says,
hurry, hurry, taking the house keys from my hands.

by Marie Howe (1950-)

This is the everyday we spoke of.

I haven’t encountered many poets who can capture grief like Marie Howe (1950-), combining crisp, straightforward narrative lines with a raw vulnerability that’s devastating and affirming all at once. This title poem for her best-known book, What the Living Do, is about her brother, John, who died of AIDS related illness in 1989. Read the entire book. You won’t regret it.