In this new edition of a 1993 poetry collection, Bernhardt and other various poets reflect on grief.
The anthology is a meditation on bereavement, which almost everyone will experience at some point in their lives. The poems chronicle the loss of children, spouses, friends, and parents, and themes of light, ocean depths, prayer, pain, and even screams recur throughout. As John Fox, founder of the Institute for Poetic Medicine, writes in his foreword, “Contained herein are bone thoughts”—an apt description of the poems’ sparse, plain, and raw emotions. Several works effectively address how the loss of a loved one irrevocably becomes a part of those left behind: “Grief becomes your shadow, / leads you slowly,” Ivy Sandz writes in “Instructions for Letting Go,” and the speaker of Annie Brook’s “The Journey” tells a deceased person that “there is a place in me where you live.” Among the additions to this edition is a timely section that specifically addresses Covid-19 deaths. Furthermore, some of the poets who appeared in the original anthology reflect on their relationship to grief almost three decades later in a section titled “Time Passes.” These short, prose reflections help to elucidate the ways in which grieving, and its attendant struggles, intertwine with life’s everyday routines. The last 10 pages of the book are left intentionally blank, “reserved for your voice, for your own poems or writing.” Overall, the book clearly illustrates how one’s relationship with loss is circuitous and multipronged, as Mike Bernhardt’s poem “Buds at the End of Winter” makes clear: “My grief lives on in me, / an old moldy stump / rotting soft in the woods. / Or a tree in late winter, / buds appearing / red and green on bare branches.” It’s an excellent anthology for anyone in the throes of similar emotions.
A complex and relatable set of works about the depths of loss.