Poet Joy Katz explores the loss of her mother, the inadequacy of metaphor, and the rediscovery of poetry thru her grief:
I hated poetry after my mother died…Poems felt false. I resisted, especially, the kind of piece whose impulse is to resolve. People said that I would find a metaphor for where my mother was. But when my mother died, I grew suspicious of metaphor…Metaphor said: you are deficient, you have not found a place for her.
Then, one evening, she sits in the audience at Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice:
Eurydice is about the playwright’s own bereavement. After dying and traveling to the underworld, Eurydice sees her father, but she does not recognize him. An ocean of sadness opened up in me as I watched. This play understood what the loss of a person means. I couldn’t speak to my mother not because I didn’t know where she was, and not because I had too little faith or imagination to envision where she was. I couldn’t speak to her because I could not recognize the Her she had become.
For me, the vital part of grieving was not to try to “resolve” or cross this distance. It was the distance. Eurydice led me back to poetry because it is not an elegy. It is about being left behind.
When I was 16 I lost my father. While going thru a closet some months later in our small apartment, I found a pair of his shoes with a sawtooth sole. I wanted to wear them but my mother wouldn’t allow it since there was an old Jewish superstition that to wear a dead person’s shoes is to walk on their head. But I wasn’t one for superstition and she finally relented. For however long I wore them, maybe that was my own metaphor for crossing that distance, long before I understood what metaphor was.
Grief is loss, a sudden separation. And it’s that suddenness that sometimes leaves you wondering if whoever was there, was ever there at all. But what is left behind shatters that illusion and brings you back to that grief with regret carried along in the current. Regret at having done too little – or too much.
We’re left to wonder how can something exist and then suddenly not. Something that was once whole is now torn.
Grief is not something that disappears but becomes part of the fabric of everyday habit. In the Jewish tradtition, when someone dies, the rabbi reaches over and tears a small piece of your clothing. That rent in the fabric is a tear in our hearts, a pulling apart, a separation. But the rest of the fabric remains whole, the essence of the person remains intact. As does the soul.
We are suddenly apart. Yet death is never final. We continue to exist. Even in a simple pair of black shoes, worn by a boy, trying to cross an unpassable distance.