Here are three selections from the new book After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life-Shattering Events.You can also read an interview with the book’s editor, Tom Lombardo.
By Tom Lombardo
For weeks after Lana’s funeral,
my mother cooked for me,
handled death’s paperwork,
opened a door—
Look outside at your back yard.
Looking outward for the first time since burial
prayers, I saw daffodils blooming,
the ones that Lana and I had planted
in a sunken rectangular spot last Fall,
set against the bright, new green of Spring,
Easter white and careless yellow.
By Douglas Dunn
To climb these stairs again, bearing a tray,
Might be to find you pillowed with your books,
Your inventories listing gowns and frocks
As if preparing for a holiday.
Or, turning from the landing, I might find
My presence watched through your kaleidoscope,
A symmetry of husbands, each redesigned
In lovely forms of foresight, prayer and hope.
I climb these stairs a dozen times a day
And, by that open door, wait, looking in
At where you died. My hands become a tray
Offering me, my flesh, my soul, my skin.
Grief wrongs us so. I stand, and wait, and cry
For the absurd forgiveness, not knowing why.
A Place Made of Starlight
By Peter Cooley
This is the woman I know to be my sister.
Wizened, apple-sallow, she likes her room dark
inside the nursing home’s glare. She barely sees me,
black shades drawn against the radiant autumn day,
purple, hectic yellow streaming from the trees.
I stand and stare. One of us has to speak.
How are you? FINE. Why did I try to speak
as if we could talk, a brother and a sister
perched on the same branch of the family tree?
We share our parents. But the forest, suddenly dark,
dwarfs me always, now I’m here, where I see me,
fifty years back, ten years younger, even today.
She is a raven, I some tiny winged thing, me
she shouts down, I-me longing to speak,
to tell my parents how she beats me every day,
dark wings claiming she will be my sister
no matter what I suffer in the darkening dark.
I scramble out farther on the family tree.
Where are my father, my mother on the tree?
I am growing smaller inside myself each day
while my body lengthens, climbing larger in the dark
toward a moment when I will finally speak
about the wounds inflicted, purpling, by my sister.
Who will believe someone small as me?
Sometimes I think the silence contains me
even today, knowing I leaped from the tree,
discovering I could fly away from my sister
to land in a clearing in the woods that day,
a place made of starlight I could finally speak.
Released by telling others, I can wear the violet dark
luminous around me now, standing in the dark,
staring at my sister who is staring back at me,
neither of us knowing how or what to speak.
Does she remember what happened on that tree?
I screamed, jumping, the branch snapped on the day
I showed my parents the bruises from my sister
and the secret toppled, falling with the tree.
And bruised truth came home to belong to me:
Never, never speak up against your sister.
Excerpted from After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life-Shattering Events, edited by Tom Lombardo. Copyright © 2008 by Tom Lombardo.