Blessing the boats

I’ve been distracted this week by the sudden death of a dear friend’s husband, whose passing leaves behind a 6-month-old son. It’s such a tragic injustice, and my heart is grieving and distressed for my friend and her family.

At the funeral today, I was struck by this line from the prayers:

All of us go down to the dust, yet even at the grave, we make our song: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

I thought, what’s the song I would make to defy death, and to lift it up?

Then I had the answer. This lovely little Lucille Clifton elegy kept running through my mind during the remembrances, and I wanted to post it in his honor:

blessing the boats

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back    may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

When my grandfather died, I was at his bedside in the hospital with my sister, brother and cousins. It had a dramatic effect on me, watching his mystery-laden transition, feeling the compression of time as life became something else, beyond all of us standing there, doing nothing, losing him forever.

At such times, I tend to take refuge in poetry rather than religion, although today I did envy those who appeared to be comforted by their faith that even tragedies like this one have reasons.

As for Ms. Clifton, with whom I shared a writing group for an all-too brief time, for me death and water are joined. Please indulge my attempt, here, to emulate her with my own song of defiance:

                          Saint John, New Brunswick

       In the painting of sunset on the river

I float in the dabbed-on canoe,

      motionless among green fermatas of lily pads,

stilled and jointed bones of reeds,

      glassed-in mirror of river and sky.

My grandfather’s sudden rigidity at death is not

in the painting, although it also frames

     an unnatural pause.

Below the canoe as it waits for a breath,

     this river is the only thing that moves.

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