Saturday, August 1, 2015

August Poetry Challenge: A Grief Poem

Grief is a natural part of the human condition. Although we know that we and all those we love must die, we struggle to deal with loss. I recently reread A Stunning Absence: poems for all who grieve, a chapbook by Susan Squellati Florence. She has given me permission to share some of her poems.

“Cousins Weekend, Monterey,” deals with the death of a child.
            We cradle her, hold her fists
            as best we can, not one of us knowing
            how to live after a child has died.
I lost a grandchild more than twenty years ago, and those lines pull at my chest. I know their deep truth.

“Waiting for a Patch of Blue” puts us in a sanctuary for a funeral:
            The church stood large and cold.
            When the blind man played
            the piano, sang Ave Maria,
            not one of us could move.

Then the poem takes us on the highway toward home. The narrator is in that emotionally empty (my word), having to return to every-day life:
            I listen to the windshield wipers
            follow the broken white lines on Highway 101,
            keep my foot on the gas.

Here are two poems from the collection:

White Mariposas, Mexico
            for Linda

Our mothers are leaving us, like white butterflies
they lift. I look out above lighted jungle leaves
and watch them rise in pure ascent.

Dear cousin, your email says, Mom Is Failing Fast.
I wish I could be with you now, back
in the summers when we were country girls.

There, I can see Aunt Annie in her apron,
hear her call and the wood screen door slam
as we carry our secrets in and out, out and in.

Ice tea waits in the tin pitcher with cool water
pumped from the well, and vine red tomatoes
sliced in Wonder bread sandwiches.

Raucous, yellow-bellied kiskadees wake me here,
like the cows that bellowed us out of bed
on hot August mornings at the ranch.

They wake my thoughts about your mom and mine,
dear sisters, they are leaving us, like white butterflies
they lift, and we can’t touch them as they fly.

~ Susan Squellati Florence

Almost One Year
            for Mary

It happened somewhere between the broccoli
and yogurt, or was it in the soup aisle
that my sister knew
she would never see him again.

She could not breathe
or control the course of her chest,
and held on to the shopping cart
for how long she does not know.

Wandering the market
where he shopped for her,
she followed the metal basket
until it filled.

One apple, one power bar,
one energy drink.

~ Susan Squellati Florence

“White Mariposas, Mexico” shows us a narrator mourning for her aunt and her mother. Her aunt is dying. There is a bit of ambiguity about whether the narrator’s mother is also dying or has already died. Either way, it is fresh grief. “Almost a Year” shows us the narrator’s sister dealing with the loss of her husband a year after it happened—a reminder that grief has many faces. It can overwhelm us at the time of a loss. As the poem, “An Undeniable Joy” demonstrates for us, eventually joy can break through
            Like poppies along the road
            Sprouting in dry soil
            Spreading gold.
But those blossoms of joy do not wipe grief out of our hearts. Even years later, something happens, and the grief takes away our breath. We talk about the grandchild who died, and tears flow, though twenty years have passed. We look out a car window and see day lilies like grandmother grew; the radio plays a song to which we danced with our now deceased partner. It is graduation day, or a wedding, and it seems so wrong that one parent is no longer living.

Another of my favorites in the collection is “A Young Woman Writes to a Composer,” but I’m not including it here, because the woman in question seems to be dealing with her own approaching death, which is outside the bounds of this month’s challenge.

In the interest of full disclosure: Susan Florence is a friend whom I met at the San Miguel Poetry Week in Mexico, and I know the person whose death is lamented in the title poem.

A Stunning Absence is sold by Finishing Line Press at

Susan Florence is also the author of a gift book, When You Lose Someone You Love. The book, designed with illustrations of nature and water, was written with few words. It is intended, the author  says, “as a caring gift to give someone after they have lost someone they have loved. . . . even many months or years later, because the ones we love live on within us forever." It can be purchased through either of two websites: or  and click on Journeys Books.

Internet Links to some poems of Grief for the loss of loved ones on the Internet:

Ben Johnson, “On My First Son,”

Lucille Clifton, “Oh, antic god,”

Wilda Morris, “Fully Alive,” and “Beetles,”

August Challenge – A Grief Poem:

The Challenge for August is to write a poem about grief over the loss of a loved one, either a family member or close friend. For this challenge, no poems on the loss of pets, please, although that can also be a deep loss.

The deadline is August 15. Poems submitted after the August 15 deadline will not be considered. There is no charge to enter, so there are no monetary rewards; however winners are published on this blog. Please don’t stray too far from “family-friendly” language. No simultaneous submissions, please. You will know by the end of the month whether or not your poem will be published on this blog. Your poem may be free or formal verse. If you use a form, please specify the form when you submit. Decision of the judge or judges is final.

Poems published in books or on the Internet (including Facebook and other on-line social networks) are not eligible. If your poem has been published in a print periodical, you may submit it if you retain copyright, but please include publication data.

Copyright on each poem is retained by the poet.

How to Submit Your Poem:

Send one poem only to wildamorris[at]ameritech[dot]net (substitute the @ sign for “at” and a . for “dot”) . Include a brief bio which can be printed with your poem, if you are a winner this month.

Submission of a poem gives permission for the poem to be posted on the blog if it is a winner, so be sure that you put your name (exactly as you would like it to appear if you do win) at the end of the poem. Poems may be pasted into an email or sent as an attachment. Please do not indent the poem or center it on the page. It helps if you submit the poem in the format used on the blog (Title and poem left-justified; title in bold (not all in capital letters); your name at the bottom of the poem). Also, please do not use spaces instead of commas in the middle of lines. I have no problem with poets using that technique; I sometimes do it myself. However I have difficulty getting the blog to accept and maintain extra spaces.

Poems shorter than 40 lines are generally preferred. Also, if lines are too long, they don’t fit in the blog format and have to be split, so you might be wise to use shorter lines.

© Wilda Morris