I chose today’s poem at random, as usual, and then immediately tried to get another one. I just didn’t want to think about the first line: “Grief is a Mouse.” I didn’t want to sit here and think about the many forms that grief takes. My head hurts, my ankle hurts, and I realize that I cannot sneak around the Rules of Random Chance once I put that Genius in charge. If this is the poem that Chance has put in my hand, then this will have to be the thing I work with today.
Here it is: #793, c. 1863
Grief is a Mouse —
And chooses the Wainscot in the Breast
For His Shy House —
And baffles quest—
Grief is a Thief — quick startled —
Pricks His Ear — report to hear
Of that Vast Dark —
That swept His Being — back—
Grief is a Juggler — boldest at the Play —
Lest if He flinch — the eye that way
Pounce on His Bruises — One — say — or Three —
Grief is a Gourmand — spare His luxury —
Best Grief is Tongueless — before He’ll tell —
Burn Him in the Public Square —
His Ashes — will
Possibly — if they refuse — How then know —
Since a Rack couldn’t coax a syllable — now.
Emily tells me that grief snuggles down into my breast, cozy and warm, and eludes capture because it is so well hidden in the last place I would look for it—my heart.
Then grief is a thief, sneaky, furtive, taking life. A criminal yes, but nothing in the face of that Vast Dark. What is the thing that is more powerful than mere grief? Despair! Grief is dynamic, small. Despair is boundless, implacable. Grief juggles, light, moving this way and that, skips before my eyes. When I think I’ve dodged grief, it is there again keeping all the balls in the air. Keeping this experience moving, awake and in the air. Always moving to stay current, relevant. Grief never rests. It is lively.
And Grief is a gourmand, who dines on me, always happy to be at my table. It’s always a good time to chew on my peace. Never let it be said that grief has no appetite for making a meal of the time before me. It is all eaten up by Grief, that greedy dinner guest.
Best grief is tongueless, silent, won’t give up his secrets. You can torture him on the rack and burn him at the stake. Even his ashes will not speak for him. Grief will not give up his reason for being. Grief does not explain or apologize. There is nothing to hear from grief, anyway. It has nothing to offer by way of wisdom. Nothing useful. Nothing so pat as understanding.
Grief is the constant companion, changing form from time to time, hiding and then reappearing, causing mischief, making a pig of himself. He never goes away completely and we don’t know why Grief accompanies us in all these forms because Grief isn’t talking. It is the thing beside or behind that we step along or back into without any reason, or explanation or name.
The nameless, voiceless grief comes and sits close, a weight on the heart. Not depression. That is a big fat stupid guy who smothers. Grief is a slim sharp fellow, who knows exactly where to point, which sore portion of the flesh to dig into. There. That is the place of loss, right there. Grief articulates beautifully without sound. Only a gesture.
Right there is where something died. Right there is where the lost dead thing fell away as you tried to catch it with both hands. Where the baby slipped through your fingers. Where the face you loved, closed and turned away. Where the breath stopped.
Then grief will point to that place. Relentless. Grief never goes away.
Grief is tongueless because there isn’t anything to say. No comfort. How hollow. There is only knowing what is always there—that absence. No words can fill the empty space where something cherished used to be.