Greater than a story: The Lesser Bohemians by Eimer McBride


When many hear the world “Ireland,” thoughts of many  rise with tedious predictability: border, violence, sexual repression, drunks.  Eimear McBride’s new novel, The Lesser Bohemians at once engages and shatters these stereotypes.

McBride uses the modernist style to bring the reader inside the self of her main character, Eily, as the 18-year-old woman crosses her own borders: from childhood to independence; from Ireland to England; from innocence to experience; from loneliness to love.  Her language  and insight are at times obscure but more often breathtaking, bracing and brilliant.  The reader experiences the world of Eily from inside herself, almost as if the reader has become a dissociated personality of the character.   McBride captures the essential nature of being young, unschooled, and protected but venturing into a wider world filled with the beauty of unknown art and literature, the challenges of education, and the hazards of sexual innocence.   Eily asks herself, when she visits an art gallery “Seek to feel but think instead and wonder if that’s wrong I’m a God’s fair innocent after all when it comes to galleries too.”; and the reader is immediately returned to one’s own initiations.  Eily in the initial stage of the novel is searching for her identity:”  Why am I. Why am I not. Where’s even the way to could? I’m not lost. Or not lost much. Lonely. It is that and I don’t know what to do.” As she moves through her first months at a London Drama School she acknowledges: “tried by the weight of all I don’t know.”

As she moves through that first year away from Ireland and engages in a relationship with a man whose name is not revealed until well into the novel, a famous actor, more than twice her age, constricting his life, nonetheless, to an untidy bedsit, Eily confronts her own demons: “Thy will be done. Satan under every skin. Skinful under all our skin.”  Her sexual initiation begins from a place of fear and shame” To spite myself, for him,  To hurt myself. I open my thighs saying Lads, do anything. Nothing matters and it is nothing…Shame fuses to silence letting the night maraud.While like watching TV, I watch. , killing bit by bit the useless hope of not being this girl I was. Am. She is…” And yet, Eily continues the journey of transformation from a shy Irish girl of the 1990’s (“Ireland is what it is. Sealed in itself, like me…”) into a woman who enjoys and even needs sensual and sexual fulfillment:  “Strange to my skin, him kissing somewhere else. Stranger to be on the outside, recreating its taste…”  Another achievement of McBride in this novel is to write with ferocious clarity about Eily’s emerging sexuality and her pleasure.

McBride moves to a more conventional narrative style, without losing the poetic cadence that appears natural to her, as the novel explores the love story itself. Perhaps, McBride is allowing her prose style to reflect  how Eily has moved from her lonely confusion and sense of isolation into  the satisfactions and pathos of an actual relationship which must exist or fail to exist on more levels than the purely physical or sensual.  Eily is permitted to articulate her own wisdom, “the opposite of love is despair” while retaining her haunting perception.  This transition of narrative style creates a less thrilling engagement of the reader but does not diminish the work.  Instead, McBride has creatively employed narrative technique to amplify the characters experience.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. Notwithstanding, McBride’s novel remains, to date, my reading highlight of the year.

The Mystery of “Crime Porn”


Getting through it, catholic school felt alternately like suffocating in quicksand, routing the lurking ambush of a terror squad , or  expanding with sudden joy as when a hurricane approaching is preceded by brief but glorious sunlight and tranquility.

Experiencing life, I often credited that education for the rewards gained from the love of literature  acquired despite the cautious offerings but likely because of the scholarly approach and the appreciation of excellence:  pleasure in the written word, even more in the spoken; solace in time of sorrow; refreshment in time of leisure.  Taking my children to the now almost quaint institution of a bookshop in their adolescence, I could command attention, almost impress, with my deep knowledge of literature and experience of the classics.  What had been forbidden during school days, Lawrence, Woolf, Joyce,  Lessing, later  transformed into the emotional and intellectual affluence and security of  a well-read life.

Alas, one with its quirky rules….

“If one starts something, one must certainly finish…”   And I struggled to finish every book I read until  past my mid-century mark!  Imagine discovering new freedom after 50!

“Read at least one ‘classic’ every summer……”  Feeling, forever young!

And “some books are less worthy than others!”  Yes, the shame of reading trash!  Whole genres…. Like the Mystery novel!

Until about five years ago, the mystery novel, like  its film, dramatic or television adaptation was, for me, a lesser thing, not even a guilty pleasure!    Dorothy Sayres?  Patricia Highsmith? Serious fiction?  Surely, not.

Ill informed, cheap pretension! –  my view that the mystery novel, or film, play or drama, is a lesser art.  Hawthorne, Green, Poe, Sayers, Tey, DuMaurier, Eco, Black. Surely, these are great writers, indeed.  Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Morse, Maigret, Montalbano, Comissario Brunetti, Wallander, Miss Marple, Miss Fischer:  investigators who delight,indeed.  Alfred Hitchcock, David Finchner, Carrol Reed, Francis Ford Coppolla, mystery genre directors who perfected an art form.

The good mystery engages the intellect in a complex puzzle, commanding attention to the most subtle detail.  Through this conceit, the skilled author lays bare and probes layers of the culture and society surrounding the characters: the physical landscapes, the interiors of the homes, offices and public spaces, the art, music, poetry of the day or of the past which supports the characters; the landscapes of the mind.  The mystery exposes the organization of the society, how it adheres, where it fragments, what it values and what, or whom, it discards.  Through the portrayal of crime, and the consequences of crime, concepts of justice are examined; issues of class, race, religion and gender  probed.  We  observe  equality and inequality, generosity and self-interest.  The mystery scrutinizes human motivation, often exposing the role of history in contemporary identity: the effects of emotional loss and the loss of power; the consequences of addiction, greed and mental illness.  The mystery can introduce the foreign and make it ordinary, whether it be the distant place or the idiosyncratic hobby or passion, such as collecting a rare bird or a stamp with a particular ink.  The mystery feeds the human hunger for an understandable world – where  chaos is tamed, action and consequences are predictable, if  only we go back and see the clues.  The mystery genre answers the quest for restored order, the search for social justice, a belief in connection and control.

Alas, in television, in particular, the mystery has been mutilated.    As one idea  so well presented in Gina Gionfriddo’s play Raptrue, Blister, Burn, television and film mysteries are toxic with sexplotation plots which are, in essence, modern “crime porn” masticated for the masses.  Not just a murder, we confront a plot of serial killers sexually abusing young women or boys, formalistically, securing trophies, eating , burning or mutilating them, or engaging in  some other perversely imagined amalgamation of male-commanding, female-submissive  scenario of  violence, gore and ritual, all available in prime time and cable for download and on the internet, 24 hours a day.  Fine actors, like Kevin Bacon or Viola Davis pollute the images of FBI agents or Law  Professors, indeed of human beings,  as they become these new tv “crime porn” stars (The Following, How to Get Away With Murder)  in dramas which do much more than merely coarsen public discourse: they pollute the national psyche.

The flood of “crime porn” in our theaters and on our screens fulfills none of these basic needs and aims at none of these aspirations.  Nor is the issue whether or not there is evidence to suggest that the violent degradation of women and children and the occasional man on the screen increases real life violence.  For even if this is not true, it is clear that ours is a society that is far too violent, far too toxic, and, certainly,  far too intolerant.  I recall my incredulity upon learning  that the crowds had hungrily  gathered to watch beheadings during the French Revolution.  Could this be the  impulse  which stimulates the greedy  creation and consumption of “crime porn” today?

The devolution of  “crime porn” provides us with no surrounding layers of culture,  (art, literature, music, landscapes) to cushion or surround the crime, to give a meaning, a context for the violence or a significance for the act or the actor.  Typically, in crime porn plots, the darkness of deranged criminal is only slightly less dark than some corrosive thing in the life or past of the detectives; the question of how society coalesces, what it values, how it is generous, is not often asked, much less answered.  Were it to be, the answer  would be as dark and ugly as the depiction of the crime itself.  Crime porn does not make chaos understandable, the unthinkable comprehensible; it does not provide a sense of justice and restored order.  Rather, crime porn seems to reflect our own anxiety that our world is intolerably out of control, craven, degraded, senseless and adrift.

The riddle is that we call this entertainment.  The puzzle is, we permit new, more lavish, star-studded performances every year.  Nationwide, we decry the many dangers of the media – cyber bullying, cyber crime, government surveillance – all while this “entertainment” violence propagates unimpeded.  The perplexity is our passivity.

As at other times in my life, I am grateful for the solidity gained from my classic, if confining and imperfect, education.  A screen can be switched  from images to words or a book picked up, and these, detective fiction included, can still transport to reaches where humanity and justice are examined, explored, considered.

The mystery, it seems, is how our culture, as a whole, can be moved to some place safe from this pandemic of “crime porn”.



Whose face it was I saw today, white vapors collected amid clearest blue,  skyward atop crashing sea?  Was it delirium of sunlight allowed the fleeting visage in that overhead expanse? Tender face filled with pain but calling, no, not crying, and was it to me alone, or others, likewise pleasuring in the autumnal generosity like a summer day? I could see you, but could not hear your call above thundering waves, so high and white, magnificent, delivering surfers and their boards  to all the seagulls and plovers to whom the  sands have been returned for these many days and weeks and months to come – nor do I know your face.  Can there be, already and so soon,  so many friends, I need to look to faces in the skies for they are vanished from the places we so loved and only I still walk upon?

Years, decades, last century, a small child by her bicycle in a deserted alleyway, bleeding from a tarnished fender and discarded glass among the stones and brambles and the broken asphalt, the urban garden, watched vapors gather into a beatific vision, so filled was her little mind and heart and sense of candlelight and choirs and the scent of sacred incense.  She stood shaking in the wintry wind defying expectations until darkness, encroaching, goaded her to, disappointed, cycle home  breathing earthly air and living still.

More near, upon the blackness of a distant shore at the edge of western history, she spied another face within the mottled skies and heard the songs of that peacock sea brimming then with promise that if she closed her eyes and studied not the skies or surf or volcanic stones spinning urgently beneath her, but the swell of her own heart and mind, the sounds of her children playing, she could find justice, a companion and a guide, like the shifting vapors, fleeting to discern, and yet essential.

Somewhere on a Mountaintop….

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERASomewhere on a mountaintop …. dawning caresses awareness; the nearly flawless skin about her eyes lurches;   her silken limbs emerge – brocade and silks, so softly set aside.

On the terrace, the chill has not absconded.  She lifts her shawl, steps out to the abundant morning; beyond, sierra silhouetted against the breaking day, blue enveloping.

The breeze is piquant with juniper, pine ,musk, and sage, and the trace of dew lingering. Collecting into a cloud of steam, above the translucent coffee pot, morning air  steeps her soul with satisfaction, and with a twinge of sadness: her eye contains the image of migrant men in the open truck far down below on the rocky road ascending to a farm somewhere out of view.


Somewhere on a mountaintop….she accompanies her flock to accept the day as it arrives upon the chilled and rocky slope above her whitewashed cottage on the hillside so distant now and barely seen.

Stillness, then the silence snapped by the crack of  sheepdogs barking, the sharp calls echo through the hills, the herd replying. A melody of hooves and brays and barks and bleats and birds and morning.

She settles in a meadow for her meal, the thermos steaming. Her swollen hands,red and knobbed and rough, grasp the teacup clumsily, and are warmed.  Sunshine gathers strength as does the smile that lingers behind flagging eyes that surveil the rock and  field and sky and perceive majesty.


Somewhere on a mountaintop….  she  no longer knows if it is night or  it is day.


Cacophony. Dissonance. Tumult. Noise. Horror, Wails. Moans. Groans. Torment. And worst: Silence.

 Her eyes, unsighted  now, are parched; tears remain her burden. Fouled air. Ruthless heat. Implacable hunger. These cower in the face of fear. Pulverized sand and dirt cling to her skin, climb down her throat. Her thoughts emerge from blackness to watch again helplessly as he is stolen from her life ,his own extinguished. 

Words amass and seem to mean something about survival …

Ban Bossy? Think again!


cropped-cropped-girls_in_the_garden_oil_c-1906_frank_weston_benson2.jpgIt appears to be that some people attract controversy as metal rods attract lightning.

Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In, appears to be one such person. The response to her March 8, 2014 Wall Street Journal Op Ed co-authored with Anna Maria Chavez, Girls Scouts USA, CEO has been vigorous. Ms. Chavez and Ms. Sandberg advocate banning the word “bossy” as applied to girls through a pledge campaign and to engage in other activities explained on a website  These leaders reach into their own history and into the etymology and semantics of the word bossy.  Their conclusion is that this “B” word heard so often on the childhood play yard, in the classroom, and even in the Boardroom, Courtroom, or Senate Chamber is a social signifier.  It is a word which connotes deeply rooted negative gender stereotypes of women who exhibit competent leadership skills.  A bossy man is to be admired as a leader.  A bossy woman, no matter how successful, is somehow unlikable. A boy or man in charge is acceptable.  A girl or woman who is not kind and nurturing is deficient. Girls suffer, we are told, from these stereotypes, lose confidence, and fail to thrive in the race to the top.

I have no reason to disagree.

In my once male dominated profession of law, it was a good day if the “B” word directed toward me or a female colleague was “bossy.” Each of us have reached into our childhoods and told tales of how we were discouraged by the language of gender stereotypes. Each of us observed that a male lawyer who was a vigorous advocate was “able counsel” or something more superlative.  A woman conducting herself in an identical fashion was likely to be many things, perhaps “bossy” would again be the kindest.

Nor do I diminish the significance of the observations and goals of  Reinforcing a child’s self esteem is crucial .

Chavez and Sandberg suggest that being bossy can help us live fulfilled lives:” The lesson to children, and to the parents and teachers who raise and nurture them, should be that there is pride in being opinionated, motivated and motivating—that is, bossy.”  (March 8, 2014 Wall Street Journal Op Ed).

My question is more basic.  Why do we need anyone to be bossy?  Motivated, Motivating, Opinionated…..

The starting point in the argument of “Ban Bossy” (the website indicates that this is not a first amendment issue: there is no literal request to abolish a word) accepts the current definitions of “success” of the upper middle class (or higher), highly and well-educated, corporate, largely white, world. The little girl labeled bossy raises her hand too much, tells her friends how to complete the project, seeks out the highest class office. She is the kid who joins all the clubs, has more time for events than for friends, she gets the best grades,  and often she is “good” at everything, from music to sports.   She grows up to be Margaret Thatcher or Hillary Clinton. When she is a known world leader, she is not called bossy; she is called cold, unfeeling or mean, and nasty.

What if we changed not merely the word, we changed the narrative.  The child who gets the highest score on the math test or read the most books over the summer is a success.  But the child who exhibits such emotional intelligence that at lunch she sits next to the little boy who doesn’t speak much English is also a success.  The girl who stands next to the child whom the class bully just disparaged is a success too.  And the one who built a bird house from twigs in the yard is counted among the winners.

If the narrative is altered to include a more diverse vision of “success,” diversity in “motivation” and in methods to motivate others might readily follow.  An Ivy League level education is no longer the pre-requisite to being a “success” in the chosen profession.  Columbia does not even have a Carpentry Department!  When the narrative changes and the means to motivate change, perhaps, the dialogue can also be altered.  “Being opinionated” might no longer be of such high value.  Listening skills, engaging in a meaningful dialogue which moves participants forward might become paramount.

Maybe I am an idealist.  I remind myself of a young woman I knew well when she was me in Women Studies Classes in the 70’s.I thought by now an equal society would have evolved.  Banning words was not a strategy I recall considering.

We anticipated a future wherein boardrooms, courtrooms and senate chambers were open to us.  We even believed a woman would be elected US president.  We considered a future wherein the choice to become a cook or a weaver or a teacher would command financial and social respect.  We read the futuristic novels of feminism’s “first wave” and believed that under our watch child care providers would garner wages which truly reflect the importance of the work performed, the provision of healthy food would be honored, the work of the homemaker would be valid.

Most critically, as our political consciousness grew, many of us began to prefer the attribution “feminist humanist.”  We professed freedom for women necessarily required the same for men. The evisceration of gender stereotypes, or so the argument proceeded, would mean that women could embrace power and men could embrace emotion. In a practical fashion, we sought equal work and life partnerships.  We marched into parenthood armed with the determination that we would talk with our sons about their dreams and feelings and bring our daughters to sports events and political rallies.  Even better, we would seek out the individuality in each of our children and cultivate that precious gift as best we could  regardless of gender.

Decades on, the world is much changed, in many respects to the detriment of the economic, social and political status of women in the US. The ban bossy campaign is started.

Perhaps, the study of conflict resolution and bully prevention strategies has led me to hopes which amplify  earlier ideas as to how to reach  a more equal society in terms of gender.  Banning words is still not a strategy.

Achieving social justice on a real level for women, girls, men or boys demands more than caution with words.

If we continue drowning our daughters from the earliest stages in marketed images of “perfection,” the anorexic, sexualized teen, the air-brushed, perfectly coiffed Kate-Middleton clone mom, words, no matter how pernicious, count little in the construction of gendered stereotypes.  If our films persist in featuring suicidal astronauts or depressive narcissists as leading role models for women even when women of wealth are acquiring a greater voice in what movies are being produced, we must look to new forums.

If these same vehicles persuade our boys that violence and vulgarity are hallmarks of manhood, youth will be trapped in an endless cycle of diminished fulfillment.  If our role models for male success continue to be styled as “tough on the outside, tough on the inside,” men will struggle within roles which inhibit most, limit many and completey exclude more than a few.

So long as we persist in defining our world as full of “winners” and “losers”, our schools will instill confidence in some and a sense of inferiority in others.  So long as we accept a society in which it is a norm that some children will go to bed hungry and some seniors will freeze to death impoverished on city streets, intolerance is almost a necessary aspect of our culture.  If we equate being “opinionated” with leadership we are failing to teach essential listening skills which alone offer us access to understanding.  Understanding the point of view of the other is the only true benchmark of the kind of growth which allows for leadership.  As we see in the world around us, one can easily bark at and boss the converted and lead them into an impasse.  Progress and growth demand more.

Chavez and Sandberg must be applauded for identifying issues which must be addressed.  They may be commended for developing a strategy.  If they are the leaders they contend they are they must continue thinking.

Initially posted at

Remembering Judy

cropped-dscn0087.jpgMy friend died last night. I love her as I never loved a sister. She suffered a unfathomable illness with dignity and discretion for too long for me to say I am surprised today. No warning could ever have been enough to numb the pain of loss which follows the end of her ordeal.

I trusted Judith’s incredible wisdom.

The Dream

O god, in the dream the terrible horse began

To paw at the air, and make for me with his blows,

Fear kept for thirty-five years poured through his mane,

And retribution equally old, or nearly, breathed through his nose.

Coward complete, I lay and wept on the ground

When some strong creature appeared, and leapt for the rein.

Another woman, as I lay half in a swound

Leapt in the air, and clutched at the leather and chain.

Give him, she said, something of yours as a charm.

Throw him, she said, some poor thing you alone claim.

No, no, I cried, he hates me; he is out for harm,

And whether I yield or not, it is all the same.

But, like a lion in a legend, when I flung the glove

Pulled from my sweating, my cold right hand;

The terrible beast, that no one may understand,

Came to my side, and put down his head in love.

Louise Bogan from PoemHunters. com

She loved Jane Austen. The wonderful charm, wit and humor of Austen was shared by Judith.

I’ve a Pain in my Head

‘I’ve a pain in my head’

Said the suffering Beckford;

To her Doctor so dread.

‘Oh! what shall I take for’t?’

Said this Doctor so dread

Whose name it was Newnham.

‘For this pain in your head

Ah! What can you do Ma’am?’

Said Miss Beckford, ‘Suppose

If you think there’s no risk,

I take a good Dose

Of calomel brisk.’–

‘What a praise worthy Notion.’

Replied Mr. Newnham.

‘You shall have such a potion

And so will I too Ma’am.’

Jane Austen

Hours of conversation with Judith about the pitfalls of blind faith and the foundations of rationalism enriched our friendship.

“Faith” is a fine invention


“Faith” is a fine invention

When Gentlemen can see—

But Microscopes are prudent

In an Emergency.

Emily Dickinson

Even into the months of her illness, Judith and I enjoyed sharing the names of good books and even good awful books! Though the years, her crackling fireplace on a cold afternoon in the Vermont light or the gently rocking boat moored on a summer day were wonderful seats to enjoy literary companionship.

A Book

There is no frigate like a book

To take us lands away,

Nor any coursers like a page

Of prancing poetry.

This traverse may the poorest take

Without oppress of toll;

How frugal is the chariot

That bears a human soul!

Emily Dickinson

From my days as an “angry young woman” filled with an undirected sense of confusion at life in an unjust society, Judith spoke a language I admired and understood. She could flash out in anger. She had personally seen the destruction which the paranoia of power, anti-Semitism and greed wreaked upon a life. Generally, however, Judith advocated justice by living. When she took up a cause, she did so with grace and rational argument. Her passion for justice sparkled in her eyes. She taught me to understand and articulate what I had previously only felt. She taught me to feel that which I might unthinkingly articulate. Judith and I shared frustration that we seemed to be continually revisiting the same issues with little lasting progress. A rational realist, Judith continued her advocacy despite such incremental change.

As I Grew Older

It was a long time ago.

I have almost forgotten my dream.

But it was there then,

In front of me,

Bright like a sun—

My dream.

And then the wall rose,

Rose slowly,


Between me and my dream.

Rose until it touched the sky—

The wall.


I am black.

I lie down in the shadow.

No longer the light of my dream before me,

Above me.

Only the thick wall.

Only the shadow.

My hands!

My dark hands!

Break through the wall!

Find my dream!

Help me to shatter this darkness,

To smash this night,

To break this shadow

Into a thousand lights of sun,

Into a thousand whirling dreams

Of sun!

Langston Hughes

Judith appreciated diverse expressions of art, music and culture. We shared this as well.

I think over again my small adventures.

My Fears,

Those small ones that seemed so big

For all the vital things

I had to get to and to reach;

And yet there is only one great thing,

The only thing,

To live to see the great day that dawns

And the light that fills the world.

(Innuit poem, 19th century)

Judith turned to music and natural beauty when facing some of her own great losses in life and the darkest of her days.

I Am in Need of Music

I am in need of music that would flow

Over my fretful, feeling fingertips,

Over my bitter-tainted, trembling lips,

With melody, deep, clear, and liquid-slow.

Oh, for the healing swaying, old and low,

Of some song sung to rest the tired dead,

A song to fall like water on my head,

And over quivering limbs, dream flushed to glow!

There is a magic made by melody:

A spell of rest, and quiet breath, and cool

Heart, that sinks through fading colors deep

To the subaqueous stillness of the sea,

And floats forever in a moon-green pool,

Held in the arms of rhythm and of sleep.

Elizabeth Bishop

The solace which Judith found allowed her to continue her life of incredible achievement and genorosity. She lived each day expecting little but demanding from life the civility, beauty and joy which her world could give. She gave of herself what she demanded of others.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers


“Hope” is the thing with feathers—

That perches in the soul—

And sings the tune without the words—

And never stops—at all—

And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—

And sore must be the storm—

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm—

I’ve heard it in the chillest land—

And on the strangest Sea—

Yet, never, in Extremity,

It asked a crumb—of Me.

Emily Dickinson

Judith’s body betrayed her subtly at first, then loudly, creully, and finally vicously.

The Moment

The moment when, after many years

of hard work and a long voyage

you stand in the centre of your room,

house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,

knowing at last how you got there,

and say, I own this,

is the same moment when the trees unloose

their soft arms from around you,

the birds take back their language,

the cliffs fissure and collapse,

the air moves back from you like a wave

and you can’t breathe.

No, they whisper. You own nothing.

You were a visitor, time after time

climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.

We never belonged to you.

You never found us.

It was always the other way round.

Margaret Atwood

Flying Inside Your Own Body

Your lungs fill & spread themselves,

wings of pink blood, and your bones

empty themselves and become hollow.

When you breathe in you’ll lift like a balloon

and your heart is light too & huge,

beating with pure joy, pure helium.

The sun’s white winds blow through you,

there’s nothing above you,

you see the earth now as an oval jewel,

radiant & seablue with love.

It’s only in dreams you can do this.

Waking, your heart is a shaken fist,

a fine dust clogs the air you breathe in;

the sun’s a hot copper weight pressing straight

down on the think pink rind of your skull.

It’s always the moment just before gunshot.

You try & try to rise but you cannot.

Margaret Atwood

Judith did not lose her gift of friendship, her ability to love, her acute and precious mind.

Love is Not All

Love is not all: it is not meat or drink

Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;

Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink

And rise and sink and rise and sink again

Love cannot fill the thickened lung with breath,

Nor clean the blood nor set the fractured bone;

Yet many a man is making friends with death

Even as I speak for lack of love alone.

It well may be that in a difficult hour

Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,

Or nagged by want past resolution’s power,

I might be driven to sell your love for peace

Or trade the memory of this night for food.

It well may be.  I do not think I would.

  Edna Saint Vincent Millay

At the end, it was excruciating for all.

No Choice

Six foot mounds stalk the fields

of frozen grass. Shrouded disc of moon,

almost full, lights the greying snows

which have lain too long under the veil of smoke.

The steady click, click, click of rain

splinters the silence of the February night.

Breathing, I am burned by the sharp 2 am air.

Too hard, too hard, too hard: say this will not be.

The kitchen at this hour blankets me in warmth.

The flames leap and dance to cast a glow about the room.

Seated in the settee I close my eyes,

No thing remains unmoved by the swaying world within.

Too quick signals from the brain are sent, collide.

Nausea, panic, rage propel me once more through the door,

Gasping in the dimness and the cold as if rising from the sea.

Too hard, too hard, too hard: say this will not be.

Across the road, a still doe looks towards me.

Her beauty is contained briefly within the night.

Suddenly, she vaults forward in the darkened world

that consumes the graceful form as though there had never been

so beautiful a creature; an anticipation of perfection;

the fulfillment of a dream, the incentive for improvement.

The space where the doe had stood survives emptied.

Too hard, too hard, too hard, too hard.

In the absence, in the loss, there is the feeling of so much unsaid.

When We Haven’t Said Goodbye

It’s the chance we did not have,

that metered stroke of a second before we knew

you were leaving, its luminous hand

unscathed by effort in the reigning darkness

like the sand in the hourglass our fist

could not keep from seeping into the lost

and forgotten. The moment was not ours.

The moment we would not have imagined,

borrowed briefly and returned to oblivion

in the aria of chimes played

by the mantel clock on the hour,

or in the wet glimmer of a kiss that we blew

into the open space we never

would have entered, telling us it’s over,

or in the grief of leaving a single word behind

had we said goodbye in time.

Joanne Monte

In the end, however, I mourn the loss of Judith. Driving in the car, listening to music, I see her, suddenly, years ago, smoking a cigarette, I feel a physical pain. I awake at night remembering her patience choosing cobbed corn despite the heat on a summer day, how I admired her graceful movements. I look at a photograph of a family celebration, see her smile. The tears that fall are because I will never hear that laugh again.

A friend like Judith does not enter a life too often. You are foolish if that friendship is not treasured. I have no sadness for days past that might have been. I struggle only to understand how we move ahead without her.