Prophetic Grief: Four Poems

Our country has a profound need acknowledge loss, to give voice to grief and thereby relinquish our clinging to an imagined past. Giving voice to grief, to sadness about loss, is a key task of the prophets. The prophetic voices today come from our poets. Herewith, four examples:

In “How Much Faith?” Al Staggs grieves about the rising economic insecurity of the middle class.
So how much faith do we possess?
From where does our financial security come?
The economic crisis has deeply touched
both our emotional and spiritual lives
and we are compelled to ask deep questions.
If our lifestyles are radically altered; that is,
If our houses, cars and most of our possessions are lost
and our savings and retirement accounts become depleted
and we can no longer afford health coverage,
in what fashion will we then pray
and what will be the nature of our worship,
our praise and our thanksgiving to God?
Might all those turn to laments,
the kind of laments that the vast majority
of people throughout the world
have voiced for centuries?
They knew the grinding lifestyle of poverty
long before the sin of avarice gave birth
to our own present crisis.

In “After Katrina,” Kevin Simmonds grieves the losses brought by that hurricane.
There’s no Sabbath in this house.
Just work.
The black of garbage bags,
yellow-cinched throats opening
to gloved hands.
Black tombs along the road now,
proof she knew to cherish
the passing things,
even those muted before the waters came
before the mold’s grotesquerie
and the wooden house choked on bones.
My aunt wades through the wreckage, failing,
no matter how hard she tries,
at letting go.
I look on, glad, at her failing
her slow rites
fingering what she’d once been given to care for.
The waistbands of her husband’s briefs,
elastic as memory;
the blank stare of rotted drawers,
their irises of folded linen still,
smelling of soap and wood
and clean hands.
Daylight through the silent soft windows
And I’m sure now: Today is Sabbath,
the work we do, prayer.
I know what she releases into the garbage bags,
shiny like the wet skins of seals,
beached on the shore of this house.

In “We Cry Out,” Leonard Cohen grieves our failures, concluding on a hopeful possibility of repentance.
We cry out for what we have lost, and we remember you again. We look for each other, we cannot find us, and we remember you. From the ground of no purpose our children accuse us, and we remember, we recall a purpose. Could it possibly be? we wonder. And here is death. Could it possibly be? And here is old age. And we never knew; we never stood up, and the good land was taken from us, and the sweet family was crushed. Maybe, we said, it could be, and we gave it a place among the possibilities. I’ll do it myself, we said, as shame thickened the faculties of the heart. And the first reports were of failure, and the second of multilations, and the third of every abomination. We remember, we cry out to you to return our soul. Is it really upon us? Yes, it is upon us. Do we merit this? Yes, we merit this. We cry out for what we have lost, and we remember you. We remember the containing word, the hold channels of commandment, and goodness waiting forever on the Path. And here and there, among the seventy tongues and the hundred darkness – something, something shining, men of courage strengthening themselves to kindle the lights of repentance.

In “Never Say,” Hirsch Glik speaks of the rejuvenation that can come when grief is acknowledged.
Never say you’ve come to the end of the way.
Though leaden skies blot out the light of the day.
The hour we all long for will surely appear –
Our steps will thunder with the words: We are here!
From lands of palm trees to far-off lands of snow.
We come with anguish, we come with grief, with pain and woe;
And where our blood flowed right before our eyes
There our power’ll bloom, our courage will arise.
The glow of morning sun will gild a bright today.
Night’s darkness vanish, like the enemy cast away.
But if we perish before this dawn’s begun –
This song’s a message passed to daughter and to son.
In blood this song was written, and not with pen or quill,
Not from a songbird freely flying as he will.
Sung by a people crushed by falling walls –
Sung with guns in hand, by those whom freedom calls!
* * *
This is part 1 of 2 of "Grief Amid Denial"
See also: Part 2: Grief Amid Denial

Poems cited in Walter Brueggemann, Reality, Grief, Hope

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