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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