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Kathleen O’Toole: On Grief, in a time of pandemic

What I’m learning about grief is that
it comes and goes, like the shadow in front of me
on the afternoon sidewalk.
What I’m learning, slowly, is to welcome it  ̶
morning fog rising from melting snow  ̶
and to fear it, knowing it can pool, as a hidden
bleed from a fall, or wake me from sleep  
like a siren at midnight, and all that conjures.
What I’m learning about grief is that
I carry it: my brother’s last words,
his hairbrush in my gym bag, my father’s
hey there in my own voice greeting those
I love and wish I could embrace.
But I also carry grief as ballast  ̶  smooth 
stones or a shell from a favorite beach
in a jacket pocket, comforting to hold 
when I find them tucked there now and again.
And these days, when I place the stories
of deceased strangers on an imaginary
altar of redbud branch and lilac blossom,
with a choir of mourning doves, I know 
that grief is not just epilogue but overture.

Author's Note: I wrote this as a response to an NPR “Poetry Prompt” 
from Kwame Alexander: Start a poem with the line “What I’m 
learning about Grief”

Kathleen O’Toole’s collections of poetry include This Far (Paraclete Poetry, 2019).

© Kathleen O’Toole, 2021
Kathleen O’Toole

4 comments on “Kathleen O’Toole: On Grief, in a time of pandemic

  1. Christine
    February 23, 2021

    Hi Kathleen, This poem is beautiful. I have an earlier version you sent to me for comment and funnily enough I came across it the other day, and I thought wow, this is so good. It’s so good. I wrote on the same theme. I will attach mine. I sent it to the Moonstone submission—even though I think they are looking for my uplifting messages. Congrats on this publication. I get Vox Populi in my inbox now. Always a good read.

    I got out on my own today…got my haircut, went shopping and bought summer sandals at TJ Maxx. Something to look forward to. Kevin is at rehab—took an Uber to get there so I was free. It was uplifting—especially the hair cut.

    So what have you done for yourself lately?

    Love, Christine


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Barbara Huntington
    February 22, 2021

    Beautiful. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jim Newsome
    February 22, 2021

    I now have the poem printed and displayed beside my computer for inspiration and solace. It reads well, and follows closely my own grief experiences. Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on February 22, 2021 by in Health and Nutrition, Poetry, spirituality and tagged , , , , .

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