Poets Online Archive
There is much about loss in the first poetry collection by Kevin Goodan, In the Ghost-House Acquainted ( Alice James Books). Much of that loss is evoked in images from the natural world and the life on a farm - blossoms caught by spring frost, a stillborn colt -
... the foal lying
in the dirt
as the mare nudges
and cleans its body
as the breathing stops.
Haboo as the body cools
as we stay with it after
as light begins
as I regard the still air
and the meadowlark, the weight
of its bright singing.
He finds something in these deaths that one reviewer called beauty but I am not so sure that is the word. That's how I feel when I read his poem His Voice Had Grown Softer Each Day. Something is there that is not death. For me, it's not in the meadowlark's singing, but it seems to be in the mare's cleaning - and it seems to be in the desire to give that desired ticket.
Perhaps it is that these poems came to me in the cold of winter after experiencing the deaths of an aged and sickly relative and then the shock of a healthy contemporary, that the topic is written for me in bold on the book's pages.
For this prompt, we ask you to look specifically at how we let someone go from this world. What is it that we say or do that allows us to let go?
WHAT I CAN TELL YOU
What I can tell you is
it is not like a Bosch painting
or Rodin's gates.
You will never see flames,
as is commonly thought.
It is more like a heavy fog
where you will walk around forever.
You will hear unintelligible voices,
but if you walk toward the voices,
they will recede from you.
Did I say,
there is no furniture?
VISITING THE DYING
The apartment on the eighteen floor
Has a balcony with a view of three bridges to Brooklyn
The East River, roofs of tenements and the extending city
While a window covers a new Federal Court House
That cost more than anyone could believe.
But on this May morning
We watched Rug Rats and Big Bird.
So we switched to the American Movie Channel
With a real old goody. He smiled
" I saw at the Cameo on Eastern Parkway
James Cagney going to the electric chair
Shouting to all the kids who looked up to him
I don't want the old bunch to think
I am a defiant hero, to go as a hero,
Let 'em think I'm chicken, coward fink"
G was a butcher
He talked of getting up in the dark
To take his van to the slaughter houses in Jersey City
To find a side of beef
With flesh to warm to cut.
said "what about watching the Food Channel
Where the chef's having such enthusiasm
Germanic precision of Wolfgang Puck
Or manic Emeril who asks the audience,
" More butter or garlic or green chili heat,
With the audience cheering and applauding,
Yes, yes, yes,
nodded "Yes, life,
You're about the meals I ate
And still would like to eat
And meals impossible to finish just now
Or meals left on a plate.
Someone suggested the history channel.
The programs there have so much loss,
" Here I am in the city
And like the reader of a poem by Frost
With neither being in or either out
In an unknown place
One walks through, a dark nowhere,
It comes to being all the same."
We are sure history tells of folks
Who discover much about themselves,
But remember this place, this walk;
For you this is only a mood
For him it is the All.
Edward N. Halperin
KEEPING THE WATCH
you couldn’t climb the stairs,
I slept beside you on the floor.
A moonless night, but through the window some bright planet stood in the east, beacon for a journey.
Some say, the heavens don’t hold messages for dogs. Perhaps, after all, the sign was meant for me. Was it Saturn, twisting inside his iron ring of grief, who kept my vigil, waking the hours to see you weren’t quite gone?
Or Venus, orb of love in a cold sky?
When morning grayed, extinguishing
that light, I took your leash
and led you to the door, first station
of the journey.
My grandfather used to be a preacher -
serving up Heaven through his lips
to small town churches when the war's
murky green stained its pews.
Daddy said neighbors used to knock
at the door, bring grandpa pastries
and in return, he would hold their hand,
palm to knuckles, open God's envelopes
and read His letter's -
They were always filled with closed
caskets that seemed to open again
for God to rinse clean or eyes
blinded for eternity, now pry wide
and never blink.
Then his memory began to sit still
like the mothers that knocked at
his door and the wooden floors that
once led them to his palms dissipated
into the basement where his legs
couldn't hold on.
Now, he breathes inside white walls
where the tone of his heart monitor
sounds like church bells and the nurses
smell of alcohol and holy water.
He can't recognize the gray haired woman
assisting in sponge baths that feel like baptism
in the middle of winter and every night
just before the final click of morphine lean
his eyes to sleep, he asks God to correspond
so he can read his last letter and go, go, go home.
She came down the mountain
last night in a dream
she looked at me blankly
and the ice in her yes
made the wind turn blue.
my dead mother who never knew me.
I hadn’t even started to bleed
before she took the special express
through the wilderness
cutting through the air
a long black star in her wake
jet lava of grief in her veins
I picture her there
on her seat in that train
both hands folded in her lap
looking neither left nor right
awash in her destination
as nothing began to matter
In the dream, her indifference
became a plague in my bones
an insect bred to sting and sting again
but she would not turn to me
With the knowledge of a traveler
who will meet a destination
where loved ones cluster
their longing, a fiery cord
My mother ascends to her throne in the sky
the train rockets past, empty in the night
without her, without me
traveling always through the dark.
I lost an earring today,
put the other in a drawer,
a collection of ones, unmatched.
I must throw them all away,
I must clear the closet, give away
the dress I wore to a houseboat
party in the sixties.
It is time to shred old birthday cards,
The azaleas in the garden,
the beloved plates that we daily touch and use,
all these I must lose.
You whose presence makes my life whole,
even the wholeness of my own body,
these too I must lose.
Our lives flame,
arising, dying at the same time,
yet a fire keeps burning.
From the One, nothing is lost, nothing gained.
Why then our mourning?
I must practice.
I let you go a long time ago,
when they first gave
the diagnosis, before
you forgot my name,
my face, before
you thought there was a family of gypsies
camping in the living room
cooking hot dogs
over a fire pit, before
you got lost
in your bedroom, before
you got lost in your skin, before
you got so lost I couldn't find you
I let you go
you already went.
I let you go before the first snow, the autumn
of the diagnosis, before
you didn't know you were gone.
I let you go
and thought it would be easier
but no . . .
WE CELEBRATE LIFE
I think of cherry blossoms earth bound
in the breeze.
Of my mother’s home care aide-
She circled Mom’s bed, waved her arms in the air, and
Shouted, “The angels are coming, the angels are coming.”
Mom did not believe in angels and unable to speak
Probably thought what she had said before,
“ I will not let her get the better of me.” And she didn’t.
Of my father, far away, mind gone,
intubated to give him
A last few tortured moments of life.
Of our visit to grandma, when my brother removed her hand from the unmentionable place
As she lay curled in a fetal position.
I didn’t try to stop him. I knew grandma would win when we left the room.
All but the cherry blossoms were well beyond three
score and ten.
The cherry blossoms had just reached their peak.
I had a heavy heart for each.
Each time I sat on my couch weak legged.
Each time my choked sobs crowded my empty room.
Except for Mom.
For her, friends and relatives visited while I
Read a book explaining the correct way to mourn:
After sympathizing, recall the life of she who has passed,
Talk of daily life to help re-enter the world—
And accept the relief that follows a loved one’s death.
SMALL TALK WTH THE GRIM REAPER
we sat in mother Ida's parlor on
the couch she brought back from
england years ago
he in the shadows at the far end of the room on a small stool perhaps,
i could not say for sure as his long dark coat reached to the floor as the silence drew painful
i asked quietly with a hint of contempt in my voice i could not disguise how can you do this i asked?
it`s my destiny he said without emotion
i stared at his hands, nothing more than bones the fingernails cracked and yellow
wrapped around the oak handle below the glistening metal that curved over his head
tis the children, the babies, that bother me most if i should think of it, he said
through the doorway i could see mother Ida's frail body lying on the bed and the candles, always candles at the end
you must hurry if you wish to tell her goodbye he said softly
had i only been able to look upon his face would i have seen compassion?
i walked slowly past the gathered few, leaned over and whispered
do not leave this world despaired for i shall see you again mother Ida
i turned the doorknob to brace the cold wind, wishing to run away from this
to draw the cold winter air deep into my lungs, to feel alive
but i was aware of his presence once more and his parting words chilled my blood
of all who spoke he whispered you alone spoke the truth
you shall see mother Ida again to be sure
and on this very day
You will have your wooden cross,
a thicket of crosses creeping
across the empty streets of America.
Some will place flowers,
but this is not where you lie,
not the place in need of sweetening.
Some will place stuffed toys,
as if their softness could somehow, now,
make your bones and this world soft as childhood.
Your name on the tree hung with posters,
melting away when the rain decides
the paper should be pulp again.
And someone will bring a desk,
the actual desk where you daydreamed
at school. They’ll fail to see its wrongness
(not sails, but an anchor),
fail to hear their whispered Goodbye
sounds more like Stay and Forever.
And some will never come,
too busy nailing crosses
to the frailer wood of remembrance.
More strangers than your friends will pass,
their thoughts driving so far ahead of them
they’ll never see this place until they do.
SO FAR AS THIS POEM…
(THE PHOTOGRAPHER AT
HIS MOTHER’S FUNERAL)
sky’s a deep beautiful blue,
the landscape of Sharon Gardens
Cemetery in Valhalla
white with recent snow…
It’s Feb. 2nd , just enough above
freezing to make it muddy where
we walk… where I walk… musing
on the coordination it takes to
be, at best, ambivalent
in the company of estranged
family, and yet, put one
foot before the other while
simultaneously editing this poem,
coming up on the plot in which
my mother is to be buried-
the same plot in which, my final
act of 53 years of childhood, is
to peer with curiosity into the hole
and note, with remnant adolescent
innocence how, the rectangle’s
devoid of shadow…. filled with light…
it being noon, the sun
directly overhead my mother’s son,
going through motions of
letting go the picture of ground
in at the bed- how it reflects off
the puddles… makes dappled
patterns on the walls of her grave…
my camera… Yeah, even here
I consider the negative, but the
quality of this image,
in immediate reality, will be
to me, archival
And so make the aesthetic
decision to go, only
so far as this poem…
Andrew R Cohen
Kevin Goodan was raised on the Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana. He began working for the U.S. Forest Service at a young age, and attended the Universities of Montana and Massachusetts. He has lived in Northern Ireland, and lectured at universities on terrorism. His poems have been published in Ploughshares and other journals. Currently, he resides on a small farm in western Massachusetts.