Selected Poems from Mourning Dove
Since the death of my beloved husband, Zal, on August 3,
2002, I have explored many avenues to assuage my grief.
Having been happily married for more than thirty-three years, I
felt that losing Zal was like being ripped in half.
He was born on a Valentine’s Day, destined to be a loving person.
We had been colleagues in a clinical psychology doctoral program,
became best friends, lovers, and eventually soulmates. We
wrote professional papers together, traveled the world, read aloud
to one another, and shared an intimacy that is rare.
In my state of devastation following Zal’s death, I underwent
individual grief counseling, attended grief groups and art therapy
groups. I participated in a health immersion program. These
therapeutic activities helped, as did the support of friends and
family. Yet, I still felt stricken.
After the first anniversary of Zal’s death I wept for two weeks
solid. My eyelids became so swollen that when they finally receded,
the top layer of skin peeled off. Deciding that this state of
mind had to stop, I started responding to requests for dates. The
subsequent dating experiences were decidedly mixed, but they
provided a distraction, as did throwing myself into work projects
that resulted in the publication of two books for teens on the subject
Beyond all the efforts I made to re-center myself, I found the
greatest relief in studying poetry. Within its structured language,
I discovered a container for my sorrow. When I tried to write
about my grief in a free form, I was overwhelmed by it; I found it
difficult to turn off or even slow its flow. However, when I cast my
distress into the pre-determined shape of a poetic form, weeping
as I wrote, splashing tears all over the keyboard, the sadness came
to an end with the final line. When I reread the finished piece, I’d
cry again, yet I could let the tears conclude. Poetry gave me a vessel
capable of holding grief.
Poetry has been described as “the highest and most complex form
of human speech” (by poet and teacher Michael J. Bugeja in The
Art and Craft of Poetry). As I explored this craft, in workshops
and in literature, I learned how many creative people of past
times have struck upon the same therapeutic effect of poetry. I
followed the trail of those who had suffered centuries ago, as well
as today, and felt a kinship with the wounded, some of whom had
lost far more than a cherished mate.
Gradually I began to notice the similarity between dreams (my
area of expertise) and the content of poems. They both cast emotion
into the shape of images; they both deal in metaphor; they
both provide clues as to how to live well despite loss.
In Mourning Dove, I try to share this knowledge with readers, with
the hope that you, too, may find solace and inspiration. Love, like
physical energy, may shift shape but lives on, eternally…
Tiburon, California, February 14, 2007
Last night I groomed my spirit bird
to make his plumage shine;
deftly I spread the oil from head
to tip of spine.
He sat content to let me preen
a glossy sheen on every feather,
protective shield to guard him
in every weather,
unlike those birds in dreams past
with ruffled barbs, unfed, or ill,
or on the bottom of the cage
Other dream birds, tame,
will perch upon my finger,
fly giddily around the room,
or play the singer,
but this bird bends to my touch,
ready to carry my reply
to a message I can’t quite grasp,
some half-heard cry…
I am She who skims the stormy waves
saving shipwrecked souls
from salty graves.
I am She who hovers over burial earth
pulsing fire-force from fingertips,
awaking women’s birth.
I am She who dwells in dripping caves
weaving spells into my hair
with white flowers.
I am She who soars to the lustrous moon
and splashes in its sheen to renew
all spirit powers.
On sea, under ground, in fire or air,
you’ll find me—guardian—always there.
A POEM FOR STRENGTH
“Give me a poem for strength,”
a small girl in my dream pleads.
I open the little box I hold
but see only tiny dolls.
I yearn to give her one,
yet it will make us sad.
I shake my head, no.
“You must!” she insists.
Sighing, I reply,
“My child, all you need
to dispel your fear is here:
Take this special doll,
clasp it close with care,
rock it tenderly,
comb its tangled hair.”
I wonder if her soul will remember
how loving makes us whole?