In the spirit of celebrating tenderness, here is the last poem from Jason Shinder’s (1955-2008) Stupid Hope, which was assembled and published after he died from leukemia and lymphoma. I loved this raw collection when I first encountered it years ago and am grateful it recently found its way back to my bedside.
If there is no cure, I still want to correct a few things
and think mostly of people, and have them all alive.
I want a door opening in me that I can enter
and feel the clarity of evening and the stars beginning.
One after another, I want my mistakes returning
and to approach them on a beach like a man
for whom there is no division between one way or another.
My most faithful body, you are not in the best of shape,
far from the glitter of the river in which you once swam.
But I want good tears when I stand on the street
and, from the sky, drifts down the finest mist on my face.
Not everything is given and it should not permit sadness.
Let me keep on describing things to be sure they happened.
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.