by: Greg Sato
Frank Bidart’s poem “Like” was originally published in The New Yorker in 2009 and is available on the magazine’s website.
The middle-aged and the very much-aged condescend to the young, saying, “You’re too young to worry about death.” They don’t know what they’re talking about.
what you watched die
She died when she was 25. I hadn’t spoken to her in a year and a half. For 3 ½ years, we saw each other nearly every day. We dated. We stopped dating. We failed to stop seeing each other. The corrosive part of love kicked in. And one night, we walked for miles and miles, stratifying our relationship, weighing it in our hands. I had enough. I cut things off very angrily. I turned and walked away. I was quite set on never speaking to her again. People asked if I meant that. Not long ago I found this: “I remember when I left…I said to someone that it was important that we know that some things do last forever.” It seems I had a point to prove. But.
A year and a half of healing was exploded one morning by a phone call. She’d died.
Phones played a very important role for the next 12 hours. I fell into a pit of phone calls for an entire day, informing others, tracking down others, receiving condolences, expressing condolences, making travel arrangements. “Industry is the enemy of melancholy.” Of course, of course. When someone dies, there is quite a lot to do.
Your hands were too full, then//empty.
The bereaved inhabit a different country, one overlaps with the still-shakin’ earth but that’s soundless and gray and people by ghosts. We’re marked. We don’t smile with the top half of our faces, everyone’s gaze is far-off, and we try to paint over our monotone with fake colors of enthusiasm. We seem to understand each other quite well, but the uncomprehending citizens of the world where the sun still shines have harder time. You’re told to get over it because your sadness is inconvenient, it affects your productivity, it brings everyone else down, and—most importantly—it’s very difficult to watch. And no one knows when it’s going to end.
At the grave’s//lip
She did not look like she was asleep. She did not sleep like that. She slept on her side, curled tightly, and kicked—even in her sleep she couldn’t be quieted. Her vitality, in fact, was here defining quality.
She looked like she was dead. I can only think of this moment in the second person:
“You felt inappropriate. You felt that you didn’t feel enough. You wanted to touch her. You thought of having touched her. You felt wonderful and warm. Then you felt really, really bad for feeling wonderful and warm. You knew that if you touched her now she would feel the exact opposite of wonderful and warm. She would feel awful and cold.
“But you will not touch her. You will not touch her because touching her is over. You will become sad and think that she exists only in clinical terms. You will think that this body in front of you has nothing to do with her. You will get angry. You will look at her hands, and you will think that this has everything to do with her. You will think that the electricity that ignited all of this has been shut off. You will look at her hands and you will know that they have nothing to say to you. You will look at her hands and think that they are dead and awful and cold, but still, you want to know—you are dying to know—what they feel like when they’re dead. You will look at her closed eyes and apologize for saying that she is dead. You will not understand yourself. You will apologize again. You will apologize. You will apologize. You will apologize. You will touch your temple and hear your pulse and feel ashamed. You will think of the others and straighten your back. You will turn and walk away, and you will think that, again, you have turned and walked away. You heart will grow fat with grief, tears will well, and you will lift your head. You will walk among your fellow citizens and you will wonder, Where do I go from here?
One of my favorite phrases in literature is, “Time passes.”
Time passed. I moved to a new apartment alone in a neighborhood far away from anyone that knew me. I had work to do. Mourning is public. Grieving is private. I imagined the grief took a physical form—a dark, dense syrup that constricted my innards then bored through the tissue and poured out of my skull in dull moans. This isn’t the kind of thing you want other people to see. I tried to conceal it, but I looked hungover all the time. When I was alone, it flowed freely. Loudly. And this was how life was for a long time.
the old hungers
It seemed disgraceful to have other concerns. I didn’t want to push her out of my mind entirely. The dead hate like. I wanted very much to hold on to that sadness until I knew where to keep it, how to walk down the street without doubling over and clutching my stomach. But sometimes you don’t have a choice in these matters.
Good god, I was not ready for this.
I went to drop something off for work. It was nothing. I opened the door. She was sitting behind a desk.
until a stranger…
There was a rush of wind that came up from my feet, and a hammer hit me in the chest.
until a stranger makes the old hungers
Astonishment, excitement, and terror: someone else.
Oh god, can I do this?
I don’t know. But I need to try.
Greg Sato is a graduate student in DePaul University’s Media and Cinema Studies program, and he works for the Department of Human Services and the Art Institute of Chicago.