Anne Carson and Gjertrud Schnackenberg

I’m interested in grief. I try to stay curious about it. A grief counselor told me that this was a “distancing device.” Of course it is. But, still. Is there any other way than to narrate one’s way through? You say, “Here is a sandwich. Gary died. I am eating the sandwich.” Or swoosh. I am at sea in some squall, cold and adrift, mist on my face, and the blowing rips me around. My breath is funny. Off and on. And, I don’t really care. It takes up time and space and, yes, it’s uncomfortable but it’s something to do.

Anne Carson has things to do. Her brother disappeared. Then he died. She writes about that in NOX, an accordion-folding journal-scrapbook, by turns self reflexive and classical. Those two sides have dialogue, as they so often do, in Carson’s work. It’s an exercise in distance. The brother was gone for a long time. Maybe always.

Then, there’s Schnackenberg’s poem in the lastest Harpers. “Sublimaze” is a kind of pre-grieving grief, the bullpen for a partner’s death. For Schnackenberg, a “transitory door,” the deathwall of “radiant orange, ablaze beyond the bed.” The poem goes on for six pages, double columns, in the magazine. It’s a tour of expectations, opiates, scalpels, planetary alignments and lab results. All of it in a floating grief state. He hasn’t left yet. When he goes, it will be “we” go.

Since Gary died, I’ve been writing poems, fragments, prose bits, vignettes and I scrape and scrape at the horror of it. One minute I’m documenting and fiddling with the placement of things: the coffin, his clothing, my hands, his hands. Then, it’s like I’m crawling, pulling my elbows across the pavement, trying to get to him.

My slow motion is NOX; it’s SUBLIMAZE. I’m in between. The outside part of me does my work, makes the sandwich, hugs my daughter and the inside is screaming against the deathwall, the terrible unfolding.