Wednesday, July 22, 2020

In Praise of Mourning

Here I am, at the last day of  Ethical ELA's July Open/Write, five days of poetry writing with other Teacher/Writers. Our final challenge this month is to compose a "praise poem" - which is described as follows:

Praise poem


identify a power that has some mystery for you. And write to try to get into the right relationship with that power—praise, description, interpretation, petition. That force could be a season, as for Keats, or an art form, as in my poem, or, as for Pablo Neruda, a luminous ordinary object. Try for three sections or parts, to see what happens to your relationship as you write in this inherently responsive form. It’s good if you find you have a three-part poem at the end of the process—but odes can be unsegmented or have as many as eight parts to them as well. Follow your own sense of relation to your inspiration as you go.
Here's my poem...

In Praise of Mourning

In a time of great pain, mourning brings us healing.
We gather together, sit alongside, embracing grieving,
Our hearts bursting, allowing all the tears to openly fall,
Families holding one another up,
Dear friends laden with food, flowers, and cards,
A blur of dresses and suits, styled hair, and polished shoes,
The bodies, the bodies, the bodies, all close and physical together,
Overflowing into hallways, kitchens, doorways, and corners,
A dance of people in moving, mixing, mourning clusters,
Some quiet whispers of what they deeply loved, remembered, felt,
Boisterous laughs at that time when, oh my, do you remember?
Eulogies, sharing prolific words, from deep within,
So much weeping and wailing,
Arms strewn over shoulders, tissues grabbing for falling tears,
Enfolding one another in deep, strengthening hugs.

We are mourning.

How do we do this now? In this time of great pain,
We cannot be with our loved ones as they die, no bedside vigils,
Last-minute gambles - stay home or to the hospital?
So many deaths, so much pain, so much love.
Dying, always a singular journey, is now absolutely lonely as well.
We, the near and dear, hunkered in our houses, watching from computers.
Is there a deeper pain than 'I cannot get to you'?
Our very constructs for mourning are challenged,
All of us, distanced, afar, with artificial environments imposed.
Funeral plans made virtually for a virtual service,
A semblance of ritual, an apparition of presence, an emptiness so raw.
Appointing one family member to be liaison, to make the solitary journey,
To gather the remains, absent any consoling community,
Leaving you wondering, is this just figment of imagination?
Is it really happening?

We are mourning.

Alongside our great pain, there is beauty within mourning's new form
Technology allows us to join together without limits
Take the time, make the time, listen, hear, soak, be.
The grieving have their arms stretched wide, ready for embrace,
We write on those virtual obituary walls, send the loving text, a caring card,
Share that cherished thought, that laugh, that heartfelt moment,
Dare to be a one-inch presence on the screen of the distant service,
Know that mourning is tender, ongoing, unstoppable,
Connecting us, wrapping us up in one another's deep love.
Truth be told, mourning never fits in any structure,
A leaky vessel, it seeps into other days and times,
A special song, a certain food, an unexpected picture, and tears flow.
Name their names, shout them into empty homes, allow those tears to fall,
Fervent, overflowing, unbridled, yet focused, cherishing the one who lived,
As all mourning is, and ever shall be.

We are mourning.

Here's the feedback I received on Sarah Donovan's Ethical ELA website:


As the kids say: I’m not crying, you’re crying.
Oof. You hit the emotional core of what so many are going through right here:

We, the near and dear, hunkered in our houses, watching from computers.
Is there a deeper pain than ‘I cannot get to you’ ?

Thank you

gayle sands

Maureen—this is so very beautiful. One line that I loved— “Take the time, make the time, listen, hear, soak, be.” It succinctly gives all we are doing together in perfect words. Your poem flows grandly and solemnly—so much to love. “as all mourning is, and ever shall be.” Wow


This is heart wrenching. Your lines: “Dying, always a singular journey, is now absolutely lonely as well” is really powerful. It actually is one of my greatest fears. That someone I love or I will end up dying alone in a Covid hospital bed. Yes, we are mourning!

Mo Daley

You have really captured so much in this poem, Maureen. I appreciate how deeply you dove into mourning during the pandemic. You wrote tenderly about things I had not even considered. Your last lines, starting with, “Truth be told…” will stay with me for a while.
I’m currently reading James Agee’s A Death in the Family. Your poem is a perfect companion to it.

Glenda M. Funk

Your poem is so tender and mournful. The images of community now separated by the necessity to replace human contact w/ screens reinforce the mourning we share. So many beautiful images here; I can’t pick just one. This is one of my favorite poems of yours. It reminds me of the collection “October Morning” about Matthew Shepard.


1 comment:

  1. How dear this poem is for you at this time. How appropriate this fits with the three stanza poem. Most of all how incredibly beautiful you have praised the ritual of mourning and how much we are mourning the loss of connecting with others when someone is sick and dying. You have given voice to the reality of our lonely times.