I feel so bad for you, my friend,
your sufferings unsettle
my faith in meaning, I meant to say.
I hadn’t meant to nettle

when, sad and blundering, I said,
“I know just how you feel,”
and got it slammed back: “No
you don’t. You couldn’t.
” “Fool!”

I didn’t snap back even then.
Even then I didn’t sigh,
“You’re not the only heartsick boy
who’s watched his mother die.”

I meant … I didn’t mean … ,” I stuttered.
It’s not pain’s magnitude
or the meanings we invent for it
we love—they are too crude—

but exclusivity. It’s ours,
this pain, and thus unique
Sure, other fools failed math, were snubbed
by the least exclusive clique,

and watched their mothers die in bright
cold antiseptic beds
with plastic tubes and coils of wire
exiting their heads.

Because they didn’t love or hate
the same books, see the same
gray movies that we saw, adored,
and can no longer name,

they can’t know us. They didn’t sleep
with the same lovers seething
beside them. They can’t hurt as we hurt
when we watched Mother’s breathing

stall and go airless. Mom dies. You lose
a winning Lotto ticket.
A Peterbilt pancakes your cat.
Your house flares like a rocket.

All griefs, yet I would rank them, top
to bottom: dead mom, burnt house,
lost ticket, flat domestic short hair.
Oh, there’s a way, of course,

grief’s grief. In the first moments, house,
Mom, ticket, Simon are all
the same—all lost in the paralyzed
homogenous sick pall

of loss, and when some stuttering,
well-meaning boy or girl
declares, “I know just how you feel,”
we won’t disguise our snarl

and say, “I know you do,” although
he may, that boy, have knelt
beside his brother by the lake,
and under his lips felt

his brother’s pale blue flesh release
one last liquescent hiccup.
And at the register that girl
may have been ringing up

a forty and a pack of smokes
when a bullet blew apart
her boss’s head and slapped his blood
across her blouse, like art,

like Pollock, she thinks. But we, still grieving,
know she can never know
how Simon purred into our ears
his gentle tremolo.

That boy and girl will see our grief
and offer theirs in kindness
and we’ll reach out, in kindness too,
and introduce our blindness.

“You don’t. You couldn’t. No one could,”
we snarl at them, returning
the darkening wisdom of dark grief’s
necessary spurning.

A Message from the Editors

Your donation sustains our efforts to inspire joyous rediscoveries.

This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 25 Number 6, on page 31
Copyright © 2023 The New Criterion | www.newcriterion.com