“After Seeing Princess Diana on the Cover of People Magazine” by Jordan Durham

Jordan Durham


When I say my mother cried once
as she watched the evening
news, the corn stood stalk-high.
The drought plaguing our following summer
had not yet hit. My father, sitting

on the couch, or floor, or my memory of him
not wanting to leave, had not left. My mother cried
as the news encompassed each station—
Princess Di, her driver, the crash
under the rim of night in that black

car. I did not know the impact
of grief waving through years of a life,
of a final harvest before knowing a field will never regrow.
The way we watched our field out back outgrow us
became our way of telling time

and realized it never asked
before sticking our ankles and flying June bugs,
one by one, into our ears. I watched her mourn
for weeks as the minute she stopped watching
and looked down at the carpet turned into hours

of days in bed. What I did not understand
about a crown is the relevance a woman has
after no longer wearing it: my mother’s mother
never a royal but as many years dead
as now is the princess. This underpinning the facts:

that motherhood and missing
never breathe separate air. As if
that wasn’t enough heft
for one woman, a body knowing loss
through the growth of wind in her

lungs, my mother too knows
to replace the monotonous ring
and ring of that phone call the royal family
must have received, with two knocks, heavy
as Oldsmobile metal, hanging

in the space between
door and man. The police officer
waiting in early evening’s breeze,
my grandfather reaching to answer and carry
the sound forever in his ears—his son,

my mother’s brother before her mother
died, died on a Sunday. Like the princess,
it was an accident. Yet, the news will never show how
when my mother watches her face inevitably
appear in the news every August, time stops

for both her and Di, because pictures
preserve one of them in the world,
and the driver of the other car,
who hit my mother’s brother,
continues to walk away, breathing.

from Poets Respond


Jordan Durham: “Not a year goes by since August 1997 that there is not some sort of news coverage about Princess Diana’s death. I acutely remember when it came across our TV during the nightly news—my father, mother, and me all watching, unable to turn away, and my mother beginning to cry. At the time, I could not understand why my mother felt so much emotion over a royal she never knew. As I grew older, I began to realize how the present sometimes unnerves our past. More so than anything, I view this poem as a meditation on empathy, and how our ghosts never truly leave us.” (twitter)

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