Poem: On the Death of a Child

 

My youngest son Jacob graduated from the 6th grade yesterday. He is 12 years old and, though that is still very young, I’m coming to the dreadful realization that it won’t be much longer till my house is empty of children. I will be scooted to the periphery of their lives—important and loved, yes, but no longer the central figure. No longer the one who manages, cooks, prods, chauffeurs, teaches, cheerleads, listens, and disciplines. The impending doom is leaving me a little unsettled.

Jacob’s teacher, Mrs. D., is dealing with a more terrible separation. In April, her oldest son took his own life. The spare details that initially reached us were heart-breaking: a recorded phone message from the school district informed parents that the elementary school and nearby junior high were on lock-out because of a body discovered in the common field between the two schools. The death occurred hours before school started and the young man was found by the junior high principal. No other faculty or students had seen anything. It wasn’t until later in the day that we learned who he was.

Children are not supposed to die before their parents or have illnesses their mothers can’t heal. I don’t know Mrs. D. well, but did what I could to express my sympathy—contributed to flowers, sent a note of sympathy—but it didn’t really felt like enough. Not knowing what else to do, I wrote this poem:

On the Death of a Child

Being a mother also,

I know I can’t uproot

the pain planted in your chest

or untangle your frayed thoughts.

I can’t sweep the darkness

from under your sheltered edges

or smooth peace over you

like a clean sheet.

But I’ll try anyway—

weep with you and mourn awhile,

caress calm into your spent heart,

and remember with you

how David howled for Absalom

and how when the Lord wept

all eternity shook.

A couple of notes:

  1. I know it’s bad form to apologize for oneself in advance, but I’m going to anyway. They say to write what you know, but I basically only know about my family, my religion, and poetry. So that’s pretty much what you’ll get from me. Sorry!
  2. This poem is a finalist in the 6th Annual Mormon Lit Blitz, “the world’s premier contest for Mormon Micro-Literature”—defined as prose works under 1,000 words and poems under 30 lines. You can read other entries at Mormon Artist magazine and even vote for the grand prize winner after the last one is posted June 9. Discussion on entries is hosted by Mormon Midrashim. You don’t have to be Mormon to vote or participate in discussion.

There are 8 comments.

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  1. Merrijane Inactive
    Merrijane
    @Merrijane

    It’s hard to format poetry on this website (that not being what it’s for), so you can’t see the original stanza breaks. But you can click through to Mormon Artist to see it if you want.

    • #1
  2. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    What a sad tragic story paired with a heartfelt poem of comfort.

    Thank you for sharing

     

    • #2
  3. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    WordPress is not poetry friendly. I tried posting the poem as a quote. That helps a bit.

    Being a mother also,
    I know I can’t uproot
    the pain planted in your chest,
    or untangle your frayed thoughts.

    I can’t sweep the darkness
    from under your sheltered edges
    or smooth peace over you
    like a clean sheet.

    But I’ll try anyway—
    weep with you and mourn awhile,
    caress calm into your spent heart,
    and remember with you
    how David howled for Absalom,
    and how when the Lord wept,
    all eternity shook.

    • #3
  4. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Merrijane (View Comment):
    It’s hard to format poetry on this website (that not being what it’s for), so you can’t see the original stanza breaks. But you can click through to Mormon Artist to see it if you want.

    Actually, those were intentional changes to the software made between a combination of security patches (not Ricochet-specific) and decisions on eliminating white space by someone at Ricochet. (There are also some issues with WordPress itself.) I know that I have gone through at least four methods to get poetry to show over the years here. My current method is a screen capture of the poem in another software, such as a word processor, and then posting the picture:

    The Initial post/conversation starter has more limited formatting than the comments, though, so shift-enter works to add a carriage return without changing the paragraph.

    • #4
  5. Merrijane Inactive
    Merrijane
    @Merrijane

    Arahant (View Comment):
    so shift-enter works to add a carriage return without changing the paragraph

    I actually tried soft returns but for some reason when I did preview, it didn’t work. I also considered a screen cap, but worried about it being too small or fuzzy. I’ll have to work on that in the future.

    Nice poem! Very “chewy” and pleasing to read aloud.

    • #5
  6. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Merrijane (View Comment):
    I actually tried soft returns but for some reason when I did preview, it didn’t work.

    They only work in the comments. Even if they seem to work in an OP/CS, when you publish, the software converts them from line-breaks to paragraphs.

    Personally, I have been using the tag of “Ricochet Hates Poetry” for a few years. ;)

    • #6
  7. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Merrijane (View Comment):
    Nice poem! Very “chewy” and pleasing to read aloud.

    Thank you. It is the form most native to English, Anglo-Saxon Accentual Verse.

    • #7
  8. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Thank you for sharing this. As a father, I cannot imagine how it would hit me.

    • #8

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