What Else Could We Do What else could we do, the parents you eschewed at 18, when you came back, scared and sick, at the proverbial bottom we had heard about again and again from counselors and 12-step programs and friends. Here you are or were finally spent, skinny as teen who ran the soccer field and laughed, not laughing, defeated by disease, back in your old room, the one you fled by climbing out the window after third failed re-hab had taught you that we were toxic, more poison than the choices you made, the black dominoes forever falling. You were so skinny and pale, a white flag, surrender at 38, a fountain of tears and thanks and apologies, close enough to the black hole for fear to have caught hold, the chronic pain you complained about rooted now in doctor's eyes and the barbed hook of single diagnosis dire. You were back with us, at last, our one and only girl. Your blond hair drifted, an early snow fall, in your bed, on the couch, in the bath, until we shaved the rest and left you with a patchy fuzz like too-much-loved teddy bear petted partly bald, like someone tortured and starved. What could we do but buy you wigs and silken head scarves, divide your many meds in daily plastic dispenser, and sit beside you among the old people at the infusion center and in the humming chill of the hospital room. Just as we sat and cheered in sun or rain at soccer games and in hardwood din of basketball in the gym, we stayed in our places until the final play.
leaving the hospital when its finally over sun-stunned, invalided, barely able to walk for glare and air so bright, so big after the days inside, the sound shifted, different, listen like a siren gone past and wailing away from us or the movie effect of jumping through time, listen, sound sucked away so the people passing us move their mouths like pantomime, the shapes of words empty on their lips, the cars silent as electricity, the valley gulls in their tight circles mute as the sky for once we lean into each other like a three-legged stagger in a giant world, expansive rush and run of colors, everything blown out from our ground zero, us alone in the parking lot, lost, our cars adrift on swelling sea and us, bobbing, treading toward the small solid islands of before, of before and now after
Before I understood the genius of grief,
how it scorches imperfections from memory
and clears the frivolous from thought, winnowing
the chaff from the precious, how it threshes
to essence (the sky a bluer, wider distance
the night a longer, deeper silence),
before I understood how it blasts new space
where solid once was, where hard rock organs
did their daily duty and jostled each
against another, no room in the crowded inn
of me, before I understood how it teaches
the agonized up-reaching limbs of bare oaks,
their bent and twisted beseeching, their ageless ache,
as well as the immobile stupefaction of stones,
before I understood the genius of grief,
I had to enter the stunned and stunted land of loss
where time quick-stepped and dragged at once and gilded guilt
shuffled in plush robe and slippers through hollowed rooms,
an elegant, muttering insomniac
reciting mistakes, the manifold ways I failed,
the disappointments and hurts I instigated.
I had to enter that land where echoes rang my ears
and breathing felt foreign, a labor past my strength,
before grief distilled itself in my emptied chalice.
Cecil Morris retired after 37 years of teaching high school English, and now he tries writing himself what he spent so many years teaching others to understand and (maybe) enjoy. He likes ice cream too much and cruciferous vegetables too little for his own good. He has had a handful of poems published in Cobalt Review, The Ekphrastic Review, Evening Street Review, The Midwest Quarterly, Poem, and other literary magazines.