August 3, 2010

M

SALT

In this room down a hall
at the Hopewell House
every Wednesday
from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.,
the widowed have agreed to meet
to lick the salt block.
My name tag reads
Albino deer (recessive rarity): widow at 35.
Dun-colored Helen and Marie
mistake me for a sheep or a goat
as we draw our chairs into a circle
of circumstance. Muscles in their aged faces
twitch with greed and suspicion.
In the larger world,
Jean and I would sit in adjoining streetcar seats,
read our newspapers,
and never share a headline.
Even Doris, who drags the remains
of a personal god at the bottom
of her purse, tucked next to non-prescription
reading glasses she bought on sale at Walmart,
shrinks from my pink eyes.
Louise has ten grandchildren,
three she and Harry were raising
because her daughter is, well, you know,
she doesn’t want to say. She won’t tell you either
that when Harry up and died like that,
some small part of her wished
he’d had the decency to take those kids with him,
but he never even took them to the park.
Betty lost a husband and found
a lump. Elsie says when the ambulance
comes to the Ridgewood Nursing Home,
they don’t turn on the sirens
for fear they’ll incite a riot
of dying. Ida says yeah, she knows.
She’s lost two of them that way. I nod.
Judith’s raised eyebrow asks
What could one with hooves so pale know of loss?
A marriage must be long
to be 40 years deep,
and grief is a black market business
best kept to themselves. If I taste it,
others will want it.
Young bucks will be dying in droves.
In war, in the streets,
in flaming buildings.
Or quietly in a bed next to me at night.
That sting in the wound, that particular tang
on the tongue, are theirs.
Keep me away from the salt.
Their old ones are sanctified,
their sorrow is sacred,
denial alive in the hide.

from Rattle #32, Winter 2009

[download audio]

__________

M: “I was widowed at a very young age. My therapist suggested I attend a grief support group to share with others in similar circumstances. When I walked into the room, I was struck by the realization that everyone was at least 25 years older. And while we shared grief in common, the concerns of these older widows were very different from mine. On many levels, we just couldn’t connect. I also read stories online of other young widows who experienced similar feelings of alienation in grief support groups filled with older women. I wanted to write about this disparity, but didn’t know how to approach it. Then about a year ago, I attended a reading by Lucille Clifton. She told an unrelated story about driving through a forest with a friend, and their joy upon catching a glimpse of a rare albino deer. The more I thought about that misfit deer, the more I realized Ms. Clifton had unknowingly offered me a perfect metaphor for my experience. I became the albino deer, and I hope that my poem will speak to other young widows who find themselves lost among the elders of the herd.”