Thursday, August 9, 2012

Poetry and Death

Here's another excerpt from my upcoming poetry collection.

He Died

The words stilled every heart in the room.
When she was called out of class
by two friends
I had thought nothing of it.
When she came back in,
to retrieve her books,
I did not look up.
I was engrossed in a sketch
of a girl
in a dark forest,
and did not see the pain
till those two words
from her lips,
as if they had also
“He died.”
She was not a friend,
I knew her name, her voice, her friends,
but no more.
She was not a friend,
but the pain in her voice
brought tears to my eyes.
I still did not see her face,
but her words echoed in my ears.
“He died.”
As she left again,
her friends followed,
sharing her grief,
as sobs floated back to us
through the closing door.
A stunned silence.
Uncertain, unreal.
The fraility of mortality
painfully recalled.
“He died.”

(10th grade, 01/29/1993, 2:00pm)

Comments on He Died

That was pretty much how it happened.

I never found out who it was who’d died, or what he was to that girl.

She left the room, and I wrote the poem.

I can’t decide if I like the line breaks in this. On one hand, they sort of evoke the disjointed, sudden distruption we all felt. On the other, I may have gone a little overboard on a few of them. Eh. That’s the fun with free verse. Easy to do, hard to do well, and very subjective.

I like seeing into people’s houses at night, when the lights are on. I’m not saying I go creeping up to windows or anything, but just as you’re driving or walking past, you can look through the open curtains and see little slices of people’s lives, and remember that those houses are full of people you may never meet, who have lives that have nothing to do with you. It puts things into perspective.

That day in class was sort of the dark side of that reality voyeurism. Here was loss and pain that had nothing to do with me, but I hurt because she was hurting. Yet I could set the hurt aside, whereas for her the wound would linger until the pain became so much a part of her that she didn’t notice it much anymore.

I hadn’t lost anyone myself yet, at that age. I have since. And people will tell you that the pain goes away, that the hurt stops with time. I don’t think it does. I think you just get used to it.


  1. I think the line breaks do work - they enact the stunning you feel when something of this magnitude happens. In breaking up the sound and flow of the poem they suggest in form as well as meaning that a life has been shattered - that things won't be the same again. As you say - the hurt won't stop, even with time. The repetition of 'he died' creates this lulling death-toll that works with those line breaks to enforce the finality of it, the inability to get away from this horrible fact.

  2. Thanks! I'm glad you liked it. :)

    That's a great analysis. I hadn't thought about it until you mentioned it, but the repetition does sort of mimic how hard it is to wrap your head around something so life-changing.

  3. So sad, interesting to hear the process of it being written. I like how it evokes the power of those two words 'she died', I feel like I'm almost there in the instance, hearing those words, very very powerful.

  4. Thanks for the comment!

    We don't use the word "died" that often. We use euphemisms most of the time, so hearing "he died," so's almost like someone hit you. At any rate, that was how it felt at the time.

  5. Truly sad and moving, this feels exactly like a genuine experience, stripped back and starkly effective.

    1. Thank you for commenting. :) It's always nice to know when writing connects with someone.

  6. I really like how this poem conveys the sort of blunt power of those words 'he died' and the amount that this phrase tries to express, but what it cannot truly express in terms of the true depth of grief.