Poem Incorporating a Line from Ha Jin
by Barbara Crary

And I am still waiting for grief
to overwhelm me or perhaps
to disappear like the gray mass
of snow on our neighbor’s side-
walk, snow in the pine tree’s shade,
no longer fresh and white.

The red-tail sits on the barren branch
he favored last year and the year
before when he screeched for hours
seeking a mate who would brood
on the nest for weeks, waiting
for their hatchlings to appear.

Red-tails watch over their young,
until the fledglings learn to soar,
despite their inept first attempts.
In a week or two, they depart for good.
After all her vigilance, does the she-
hawk stay to mourn the empty nest?

As I sit and watch the hawk, I think of
pandemic’s early days when we planned
a hundred things to do — there were,
heaven help us, lists on the internet —
no, I did not learn calligraphy or how to
juggle, not exactly anyway. But

I have learned to be still, to watch and to wait
for whatever grief comes my way next —
a slow growing cancer caught too late;
the stillbirth of a much-wanted baby girl;
a sudden suicide (the rowboat empty
on the half frozen lake).

Sometimes I remember that we used to
like talking about grief when it was a
hypothetical, a distant abstraction and not
the ache of emptiness, an unseen clump of
wayward cells, or a barren branch
where a nest used to be.

PAINTING: Hawk by Xu Beihong (1946).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: As I was thinking of how to respond to this prompt, I came across a poem by Ha Jin, “Ways of Talking.” The first line, “We used to like talking about grief,” really resonated with me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and kept incorporating it again and again into my poetry practice. I decided to use it here because I know I am still waiting for that full weight of pandemic-related grief to appear whether I choose to talk about it or not.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Barbara Crary worked for thirty years as a school psychologist in southeastern Pennsylvania and  began writing poetry after her retirement. She has participated in writing courses through the University of Iowa International Writing Program and was a contributing poet to Whitmanthology: On Loss and Grief, as well as to Silver Birch Press. She especially enjoys writing found poetry and participated in thepoeming during April 2021, using Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs as a source text.