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Excerpt from After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life-Shattering Events

Excerpt from the introduction to 'After Shocks,' and three selected poems.

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.

The Kaleidoscope

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.