Grief Work

I have heard it said about the Millennial generation that we don’t like the pain of life, and we live jumping from one high to the next. That’s nothing new. Each generation has its own way of distracting from the truth that life is hard.

I’m guilty of this distraction. There are “small” things like finding my beans destroyed by grasshoppers just a week before harvest. I jump to “Okay I’ll start over next year” while the quiet disappointment eats away inside. In truth, I lost something precious, and I can’t get it back.

Big things happen too. Having children, even ones we planned on, closes the door to certain delights in life. If we haven’t already said it to ourselves, the moment a mom mentions “I really miss [being spontaneous / my independence / having time to myself]”, a crowd of people jump in to immediately correct her that the joys of motherhood replace it so she doesn’t actually miss that.

No, really, I do.

Think about all the placations we give to people who face the long road of recovering from loss ahead of them.

“They’re in a better place.”

“You’re so much better without that relationship.”

“That season is over to make way for a better one.”

“Hard times make us better people.”

“That animal is gone, so you can have a space for a new one that needs love.”

We can place a bandaid over the wound, or we can face it. Stories like Beowulf and The Hobbit describe dragons that take over a mountain, and everyone who lives in its shadow lives in fear. Slowly, they move further and further away from it. The dragon devours; it takes over. Loss does that inside all of us.

At some point, we muster the heroic strength to hike into the dragon’s lair and face it. It is always scary. It is always hard. Coming face to face with “I really miss this, or you, and there’s nothing I can do to reunite us” brings all the placations we offered to imagine the dragon hadn’t been soaring through our skies for so long to their knees.

Only then can we slay it. The land that rests beyond the mountain is still scorched from its fiery breath. We can see what we have to work with, and start plodding ahead again.

Here’s Natalie Diaz’s much more eloquent way of expressing these thoughts:

Grief Work

I have gazed the black flower blooming

her animal eye. Gacela oscura. Negra llorona.


Along the clayen banks I follow her-astonished,
gathering grief’s petals she lets fall like horns.


Why not now go toward the things I love?


Like Jacob’s angel, I touched the garnet of her wrist,
and she knew my name. And I knew hers—
it was Auxocromo, it was Cromóforo, it was Eliza.
It hurtled through me like honeyed-rum.


When the eyes and lips are touched with honey
what is seen and said will never be the same.


Eve took the apple in that ache-opened mouth,
on fire and in pieces, from the knife’s sharp edge.


In the photo her fist presses against the red-gold
geometry of her thigh. Black nylon, black garter,
unsolvable mysterium—I have to close my eyes to see.


Achilles chasing Hektor round the walls of Ilium
three times. How long must I circle
the high gate above her knees?


Again the gods put their large hands in me,
move me, break my heart like a clay jar of wine,
loosen a beast from some darklong depth—


my melancholy is hoofed. I, the terrible beautiful
Lampon, a shining devour-horse tethered
at the bronze manger of her collarbones.


I do my grief work with her body—labor
to make the emerald tigers in her hips leap,
lead them burning green
to drink from the violet jetting her.


We go where there is love, to the river,
on our knees beneath the sweet water.
I pull her under four times
until we are rivered. We are rearranged.


I wash the silk and silt of her from my hands—
now who I come to, I come clean to, I come good to.




Copyright © 2015 by Natalie Diaz. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 21, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.