16: Dirge

Dirge – A brief hymn or song of lamentation and grief; it was typically composed to be performed at a funeral. In lyric poetry, a dirge tends to be shorter and less meditative than an elegy. – Poetry Foundation

Mourning in Chicago

I lit candles in St Peter’s
or rather I pushed buttons
to activate timed bulbs in plastic candle-shells.

It was the best I could do, not finding
even electric candles in the churches here
but I wish I could have given my dead living flames.

You can cry in a church and no one stares,
a space set aside for our naked selves
as much as for God.

The lights were still up from Christmas
and the manger scene sat dark in the corner.
It was the wrong season for mourning

And my tears were belated anyway, waiting
for this ritual to make real my loss.


This is a poem about mourning for my grandparents and uncles who passed away while I’ve been in the US, so it’s more personal than a lot of what I’ve been writing here so far. The dirge, though, is necessarily a personal form, I think – it’s hard to write about death and mourning in the abstract.

This poem ended up coming as part of one of those odd, unplanned confluences of a theme – here, death. It was Easter, I’d just seen Noah (so good!) and just read Hannah Kent’s amazing Burial Rites, about the last woman to be executed in Iceland. I had also stumbled upon Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Deaths of Children), which are musical settings of a selection of five out of a total 428 poems which Friedrich Ruckert, a 19th C German poet, wrote on the deaths of his children.


9: The Bop

A recent invention, the Bop was created by Afaa Michael Weaver during a summer retreat of the African American poetry organization, Cave Canem. Not unlike the Shakespearean sonnet in trajectory, the Bop is a form of poetic argument consisting of three stanzas, each stanza followed by a repeated line, or refrain, and each undertaking a different purpose in the overall argument of the poem. –  Poets.org

The Program

We come because of love, because we are promised
A life in union with these works, these ideas,
These people – a convent for the lower-case word.
And we do love, we love as some love the books themselves –
The tactile reassurances, the familiar gestures,
As warm and safe as a lover’s body in the dark

But that unrequited love will not nourish us.

Despite the promises Hollywood makes us,
Love will not mend minds and bodies worn and broken
On the rocks of genteel poverty and imposter syndrome,
Abuses of power, mundane and bizarre, committed by crusaders
For justice and equality, and knowing that we are
At best numbers in a system and at worst a joke,
A punchline about laziness and uselessness and weakness.
We are fighting for too few lifeboats here

And this unrequited love will not nourish us.

But what if we are not drowning? Who told us
We were but the people already in the lifeboats?
And we believed them and believed each other.
It is possible to drown in a few inches of water.
It is possible, too, to find ones feet, to stand,
To wade in to the shore that was, after all, so close,

Because this unrequited love will not nourish us


It was nice to have a form so comparatively free of constraints this week – no meter, no rhyme scheme. This form, like the blues, is more about the content than the form itself – here, the working through of an issue. I ended up writing out some of my discontent with the US academic system here and the way it’s built on a raft of icky (and sexist) assumptions about emotional labour and the way it operates within an environment of anti-intellectual capitalism. The anti-academia piece is a genre in its own right these days, too, though it’s usually done in essay form. I happened on this as I was thinking about the way that the problem, problem solution format was – I assume – designed for writing about social justice issues. It certainly works well for that purpose anyway.