Tuesday, January 22, 2013

An Arithmetic of Loss (Poem)

An Arithmetic of Loss

Losing your mother,
she said, is more terrifying than arithmetic.

When you're middle-aged and bad
at numbers, all you think of is

the subtraction of what you love,
the addition of grief that multiplies

like all the goodbyes you must say
in the places she filled.

Well-meaning people tell you
it's five stages you go through and then

you get over it
but you know, when you're lost it's best

to stay where you are,
and never try to be whole again.

Some days you count jars
of unbranded peanut butter on her shelves;

the dime-store romances devoured
like unwrapped candies; Pantone chips

for walls of the piano room imagined
at her last Vida Seniors apartment; the bars

of two-for-one scented soaps
you gag on still; dangly rose-shaped clip-on

earrings you can't wear
because you got pierced at thirteen

and costume jewelry is so not your thing.
You go around her house, totting up

all her items put aside for Good-Will,
closing yellow silk drapes, reminding yourself

there is no sum of words for the broken
-hearted, nothing that can equal

what you alone can keep in the light.

2013 © Maureen E. Doallas

This poem was inspired by a quote in a late 2012 Guernica magazine interview with writer Sandra Cisneros, who said, "I think one of the great primordial fears we have once we become conscious of our aloneness as children is the fear of losing our mother. We have that from the moment we realize we can lose her just in the supermarket. As a child, it was more terrifying than arithmetic. When I lost my father, I though I learned about grief and transition. However, nobody tells you what's it's like to lose your mother. They don't tell you that you're going to feel like an orphan at whatever age you are as an adult. . . ." 


Louise Gallagher said...

Oh Maureen. This is achingly beautiful.

Your poems always pierce straight to the heart.

S. Etole said...

There's an aloneness to a mother's death that never seems to disappear.

Marina Sofia said...

Very poetic arithmetic indeed.

Wolfsrosebud said...

... so true and loved the math concept

Yiota Karioti said...

this brought tears in my eyes. My mother is still alive and in good health so far, and we may not have the best relationship possible, but i do fear the day when i will not have her with me no more... thanks for sharing this poem.

the sad red earth said...

"but you know, when you're lost it's best

to stay where you are,
and never try to be whole again."

A splendid poem, Maureen. One of your finest achievements, I think.

Rod E. Kok said...

I really need to hug my mom now. :) Beautifully done!

Alex Dissing said...

I've always been afraid of math but yes, I'd be much more afraid to lose my mother. Not sure what I would do, actually. This poem captures that helpless feeling.

Brian Miller said...

ah you hooked me hard from the beginning...losing a mother is never easy...my wife lost hers a few years ago...it was the first funeral i ever preached and the hardest as well....hard piece for me to read...but you spun it beautifully

Jenne' R. Andrews said...

Exquisite poem, Maureen-- so powerful. did you mean "..that multiplies.." xj

Anonymous said...

Rings with truth, thrusts with the sharp points of sorrow.

Mark Butkus said...

A brilliant premise that tugs at one's heart.

Unknown said...

Wow, this is so deeply sad. I can feel the heartbreak reading your words

Maureen said...

Thanks, Jenne. Yes. Bad typing on my part. It's now corrected.

Kathleen said...

Oh, my, a sad one. But, oh, the gorgeous details.

Anonymous said...

A brilliant, aching, lovely showing not telling of loss. So good

Jerry said...

Thank you Maureen. My mother died last year and this touched me so. I have written several poems before and after her death...poetry of loss...thank you. I miss her so.

Unknown said...

You shine a spotlight on what, for most of us, is the inevitable, allowing us to observe and feel what we someday will experience. And you do it with respect and admiration. Lovely.

Anonymous said...

Shit, Marueen! This is good!

like all the goodbyes you must say
in the places she filled.

those are moments that leave me hanging