Form, my teacher averred,
can protect against outpourings
of emotion such as occur
after a loss, advice I followed
when documenting the toll
cancer caught late took on you,
subjecting peers in workshop
to accounts raw as they were
rigid (a villanelle whose two
repeating lines suggested remission
and relapse; a double sonnet,
an Elizabethan enclosed within
an Italian’s octave and sestet,
about bees that took up residence
in a porch hollow of a house
where I was myself a guest,
the metaphor growing labored
when I tied infestation to disease;
a sestina sodden with perspiration
and sibling rivalry the more
insidious for going unacknowledged,
which relocated The Tempest
to South Texas, land of storms
capable of toppling a boat dock,
as one proved the summer,
your last, your firstborn sought
to find out if sweat can expel
grief, pouring himself into work;
a long-imagined, never-finished
pantoum on the bed-swing,
most southern of southern comforts,
my brother’s rendering of which
weighed as much as four men
could carry, a hulking mass,
coffin-dense, its construction rushed
to ensure it saw you through
your last days, you whom chemo
had winnowed to a matchstick,
who, swaddled for warmth,
suspended as in water, rocking
back and forth, slept like a baby),
subjecting myself to critique
and, worse, infinitely worse,
to pity—
form, that bulwark.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 40 Number 5, on page 53
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