Last year on the first anniversary of my sister’s death, I brought together a gathering of women who had lost family members in the past year. And, last year, I wrote a poem about my year and my family’s year of mourning and learning. This poem, “Anniversary,” is placed in the Lakeside section of Sightlines and closes the book. In our time together today, I will read sections of the poem, stopping to reflect upon it, and pausing to refresh our spirits with my father’s music.
After Sightlines a Poet’s Diary was published this year, I was introduced to a book by Sandra Gilbert titled Death’s Door: Modern Dying and the Ways We Grieve. Gilbert has dedicated much of her life to the study of the elegy—it’s history and how it’s developed in modern times. I was thoroughly intrigued, as I read her book, to discover that my work fell into a tradition I’d had no conscious thought of or knowledge of.
“Anniversary” begins by attempting to imagine Julia in her after-life, with her own indelible characteristics intact: ingenuity, purposefulness, and dedication through ceaseless activity to use her talents to make things better. Crossing over from life to death in a boat is a staple of Greek and Roman myth as well as Buddhist mythology. The beginning of “Anniversary” is a day dream—a fantasy, if you will. Yet, it is memory which grounds these imaginative leaps. And, I’m teasing her a little here, too.
August 16, 2005
Julia’s one year anniversary.
You’ve been in the world of our ancestors for a year now.
Six years older, you always went before me.
Then, last year, you passed through.
I can’t say “passed on.”
No. You’ll never pass on.
You’re too fierce and present for that.
You passed over the waters in the famous boat.
Probably rowed it yourself.
Come on, confess. Didn’t you?
Said to the helmsman.
“Sit down, take a rest.
Let me take over for a little while.
You look like you haven’t slept in a million years.”
And, while you were at it, redesigned the boat
for greater comfort and speed.
Sewed some new boat cushions on the way over,
Then, docked, stepped out on that far shore.
Claimed it as your own.