Friday, September 11, 2015

How Have I Not Written About This Poem?

After I posted the photos of my office, I went searching in the blog archives for where I wrote about Mary Oliver's poem, "Heavy."

And I couldn't find it. 

Maybe the blog post was all in my head?

At any rate, it's September 11th--a day of grief for many people--and I think I should write about this poem. I feel like I talk about it or tell people about it all the time (because I'm always foisting poems on people in otherwise normal conversations, natch). It was sent to me in the mail by my friend Erica, folded up and tucked into a card. I remember opening it and reading it, and crying the way you cry when everything is terrible and nothing can make it better except knowing you're not the only person who has ever felt this way.

I copied it into my notebook of quotes and poems I started collecting after Eliza died, and I carried the typed copy that Erica sent with me for a long time, frequently pulling it out of my bag or my pocket, unfolding it, smoothing the creases, and reading the words over and over again. 

I was bent. My laughter was gone. And yet, I could recognize a hopeful truth in this idea that it's not the weight of the grief you carry, but how you balance it "when you cannot, and would not / put it down."

Eventually, I put the poem up on the bulletin board in my office--a place where I balance both grief and books--and even though I am sure I know it by heart, I still read it almost every day.

It's a poem about life after grief. About how you live with it and around it. How you never really let it go, but it eventually stops feeling like such a burden and becomes a familiar part of you. How you kind of stop hating it and start recognizing it as a reminder of love. How you find space for your old self in and around the grief--but Mary Oliver really says it much better than I can, so here it is:

"Heavy" by Mary Oliver

     That time
     I thought I could not
     go any closer to grief
     without dying.

     I went closer,
     and I did not die.
     Surely God 
     had His hand in this,

     as well as friends.
     Still I was bent,
     and my laughter,
     as the poet said,

     was no where to be found.
     Then said my friend Daniel
     (brave even among lions),
     "It is not the weight you carry

     but how you carry it--
     books, bricks, grief--
     it's all in the way
     you embrace it, balance it, carry it

     When you cannot, and would not
     put it down."
     So I went practicing.
     Have you noticed?

     Have you heard 
     the laughter
     that comes, now and again,
     out of my startled mouth?

     How I linger
     to admire, admire
     the things of this world
     that are kind and maybe

     also troubled--
     roses in the wind,
     The sea geese on the steep waves,
     a love
     to which there is no reply?


  1. So beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Brooke, you most definitely had a blogpost about this poem. I know, because I read your blog, and promptly got out my grief notebook (inspired by you) to write it down. But thanks for the reminder of if. It's a beautiful poem and as time goes by, I also realize I cannot and would not put it down.

  3. I remember the poem as well, Brooke -- and Google helped me find it.
    It's here:
    And here:

    1. Thank you, Anonymous, and your master googling skills. I KNEW I had written about it before!

  4. I also discovered this poem through your blog. I'm a high school English teacher and a Mary Oliver fan, and yet I had not encountered this wonderful poem before you wrote about it. My first daughter (second child) was stillborn at 38 weeks in 2008. So many of your words resonate with me--thank you.

  5. Thank YOU, for sharing, Brooke.
    Also, sorry for the "anonymous" -- phone was dying and managed to hit "publish" at 1% battery, so forgot to at least sign my name. (Not that you'd recognize it -- I'm normally a lurker who followed you here from glow, where I was simply "k". )

  6. Another poem that I love is "Myth" by Natasha Trethewey.

    1. HT - OMG "Myth" is breathtaking. A favorite of mine as well. The most awesome palindrome poem--talk about brilliant. I read Trethewey's book for a book club and we spent almost the whole discussion talking about just that poem and our own experiences with grief. It's so beautiful.

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  8. Sorry my first comment disappeared, and I'm just now getting back to you. Bloggers search tool sucks, but you wrote about the poem in the same post you wrote about Jeffers' The Heart and the Bottle. So I sort of remember it. ;) what I maybe didn't tell you was that I sent it to my dad, and he actually used it (and your writing about it) in a class he led at church a few weeks later.