When books make you cry.

It can take seconds, but books have an emotional impact well beyond their weight. I get up, walk from the living room, see a hardback version of a favorite book— I’ve left it out from sorting my shelf. 

It’s filled with poems about a war (doesn’t matter which one, the truths are all the same, merely different uniforms). I flip it open, read. I sit down. I read. I think of the losses, and what the author was feeling. I’m not sure I can know, but I can try. I think of family funerals, and rain. I think of the chill of a grave and the life left over, forced to live in a place not of my own choosing where there’s enough pain that I am compelled to write the poem I hold in my hands. The book creaks as I close it, and I notice that there’s glue on the back from an old sticker.

The book has traveled, just like me. The poem is one year older than me. The pain is raw as the day it was written. I don’t know the author. Should I go type my own words now, freshly shorn by the ragged edge of a single page– the scent of someone else’s blood funneled into my own narrative? It feels like theft, kind of, but then writers are emotional vampires, building stories from borrowed hurt and joy.

I wonder if the author is still alive, and then decide I don’t want to know. They are alive to me, as certainly as if they were standing next to me, reading their poem and watching from the corner of their eye, just to make sure I’m listening.

“What are we watching?” I ask my son, averting my eyes. He’s nine, and I’m not sure I can explain how second hand pain works. Not at this age, and not yet. Maybe someday he will read something I’ve written and ask how someone like me could write something so bleak, and then we can discuss what it means to be an adult, but not right now. I look at the television and think of muddy fields and missing sons, and who wrote it down so that I could be thankful for the room around me, free of rain and fear.

Stillborn: A Lesson In Fiction

Bad things happen. Frequently.

Bad things cause vivid memories, and if they linger, and you write, you can turn those same images into fuel that churns the waters of your imagination.

I’m writing a character who is totally enmeshed in loss, and I reach back to a short poem from 1998 to find the fuel I need. I hope you enjoy it, and that the emotion is real, maybe?


Stillborn
His physician’s coat rustles
as he leaves-
 the door glides shut, to leave my wife
and I alone with the fluorescent hum
of the lights, a cold steel table
and our sadness.
Our spirits as empty as her womb
her shuffle is tender,
towards the door
to the car
each step normal
just like my stop at the nurse.
Her smile is pasty
she hands me my son in a bag.
On the ride home, I stare at his face
hoping he fogs the plastic
but the bag is as still as the air in the car.
We walk, the yard is frosty
she watches me from the window
as I stop near the hickory
and start to dig.
The pit (grave) is tiny
and the walls collapse
on his face.
Bones pull hardest
when they are small.
The walk back to the house is long.
Summers later, we lay rigid
next to each other
the fear of each furtive union causing wonder:
Will I dig again?