A shadow from my memory,
you are as thin as the wisp of yellow hair
curtaining your delicate head,
a head so long and round
it dominated that small and trembling body
as your hand reached up and found mine.
You took hold of my finger as you took hold of life,
for one strong year,
as though you would eke out
every last drop of time this world had to give.
I cried for you in my sleep,
your spirit took refuge in a stitched
and crooked animal I plucked from a rack at your funeral.
I do not remember your mother or your father there.
I do not remember my own.
But I remember you, this cherub, a pearl
tucked snugly into your earthbound bed—
a lesson in death and remembrance.
You, my wisdom.
I wrote this poem a few months ago in response to a Poets & Writers prompt from their newsletter The Time is Now. I don’t write much poetry, but every now and then it’s one form of creativity that allows me to discuss something that I don’t talk about very often in a way that’s healing. I also submitted it to a few places, but I don’t think it’s going to be accepted anywhere. I don’t say this to be negative or pessimistic. I’m actually at a place right now where it doesn’t bother me to be rejected. I received another rejection for the poem while I was walking into the bathroom at work last week, and it didn’t affect me at all. I braced myself for a moment to feel a twinge of disappointment, but nothing came of it. I realized it just didn’t bother me the way it used to, and then I wondered if I wasn’t simply unmoved by the publishing industry entirely. I know what I need to do to make a piece work, and I know what it feels like to read something I’ve written and know that’s everything I have to give to it. Especially when I read something months later and know I wouldn’t make any changes.
So, who is Hannah? She was my cousin, daughter to my aunt and uncle, my mother’s brother, and born with a severe case of Down’s syndrome. She was born when I was 5 and died when I was 6 of heart failure, from what I remember being told. I didn’t follow the prompt exactly, because when I started to write the poem this particular memory dominated its form, so I went with it. I decided to write about the first time I met her when my aunt and uncle brought her home from the hospital. I was standing beside her crib and offered a small finger in welcome. She then grasped it, rather tightly, and then tried to stick my finger in her mouth. My mom swatted my hand and told me not to let her do that, so reluctantly I pulled away. Other than sitting in a chair in the sunroom of her maternal grandparents’ home after the funeral, where someone rolled a cart of teddy bears in front of me so I could choose one to take home, I don’t remember anything else about her. I remember her clutching my finger and I remember selecting a teddy bear from the cart after her funeral. Regardless, she made an impression, being my first real loss. It was devastating, but I don’t remember crying about it until I was a bit older. But there were several occasions before then where I would accidentally leave that bear behind somewhere and then lose my shit about it. I even left her once at a hotel at the beach, and somehow someone managed to get it back to my parents for me.
Sometimes I wonder if her death is the reason why I’ve had some mild abandonment issues in the past, and being that I’ve never written about her this way before made me believe that in doing so I could be healing a piece of myself that has long needed a salve. To bring it out into the open is daunting, and I’m still not sure I’m completely comfortable with it. I’m going through a period where I don’t want to be a writer anymore because I don’t want just anyone to know these parts of me, and I’ve realized I don’t feel the need to be published in order to validate myself. Which is definitely not to say those who choose to publish are merely validating themselves, only publishing for me became solely about that, and now that I’ve been published that particular process of being a writer has lost its luster. Even May Sarton complained of publishing’s business aspects in her book, Journal of a Solitude. It’s not that I think it’s outdated, only that I’m not in a place right now where I want to be published in a traditional way. It’s okay for me to simply post something on my blog because of how simple the process is. And if this is the most I become as a writer I can honestly say, at this point in my life, I’m okay with it. Because I’m still trying to figure out what I want professionally, and I don’t want to mope about something that’s not happening for me when I’m not even trying to work for it because I don’t know if it’s what I want in the first place. I love writing. It really is a soothing, if not predominately frustrating, practice. But I don’t want to continue carrying around this idea that I need to be published in order to feel like a “real” writer.