Friday, February 1, 2013

Poetry Friday: My Journey: Allison

Our Poetry Friday host today is April Halprin Wayland aTeaching Authors. Take the time to stop by and read some of the wonderful poetry that passes through the Kidslitosphere.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been telling the story of my journey through grief many years back when I lost a child to a full-term stillbirth. Writing the posts this week has been a little harder as I have allowed myself to remember the pain. Grief is cyclical. We grieve until we find peace, then we go on living until some random event opens the door to that tender spot, and we grieve again. Learning to grieve well means finding a way to place that pain in the arms of God and find the peace and the energy to choose life in the face of that loss.

I was invited to see “Steel Magnolias” last weekend at our community theater. I was hesitant to go. Allison died in 1985. “Steel Magnolias,” the movie came out in 1989. I was totally unprepared for the climax and sat sobbing my heart out in the middle of the theater. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go see it again while I was writing through this. But I went. As much out of curiosity as anything else. How would I respond?

There was some sadness. I wiped a tear that rolled down my cheek. The next day I sat down and wrote this week’s posts. Perhaps giving myself that opportunity to feel sad made it harder to write. Perhaps it made the writing better. I don’t know, she says laughing to herself. Somehow, it just had to be part of the process.

I wrote this poem over the period of a few months toward the end of 2008. I remember that same sense of opening myself to the remembered pain. Not really present pain any more, but remembered pain. Remembered with some sadness. Remembered with some joy, knowing how that journey changed me. Remembering the healing that finally came.

I’m not finished with the story yet, but I needed to remember those last things today. Maybe you do, too.


Skin, stretched membrane thin,
refuses an answer.  Where
is the bony heel?
Her fingers question,
restless across her belly.

Head pressed to the frozen pane,
she stares into the silent
night, pondering
the child.

Ten fingers and toes,
each tipped by a tiny nail,
she strokes them gently so
they lay curled across her thumb.
Wisps of brown hair stand on end,
lips curved in a half-smile,
lashes and brows rest on closed lids-
perfect, but for breath.

She flinches at the odor of ashes.
From the kitchen counter,
an open cookbook mocks her.
Someone moved the cradle.
She breathes a silent thank you,
a silent curse,
and avoids the yellow blanket.

The impulse to hurl a dish
grows with each plate, saucer, bowl,
until she reaches the cup.
The impact shatters
the fragile thing.
Coffee, half-drunk,
pools on the floor
where she crumples
amid the shards,
pulls the blanket to her chest,
and moans herself a lullaby.

Give the sculptor no tool
to free the stone-bound pieta.

Bind the singer.
Leave him gagged,

engorged in silent song.
Deny the painter his palette.

Cuff his hands while he mourns
the interrupted canvas, and images bleed,

ignored, on the floor.
Then watch him grieve,

like a childless mother
who cups her breasts,

hands taut against fevered glands
that run with milky tears.

Bare wood awaits
a ram, or a heifer.
Maybe a pigeon from the poorest -
those blessed ones who see God.
She is blind,
drawn to a bare altar
by the odor of burning myrrh
with nothing to offer
but questions
and pain.

Take off your shoes.
The ground here is holy.

A high place
demands she climb the face,
risk an uncertain step,
scale the crag,
shout her name to the wind,
reach out her hand,
spread her fingers,
grasp the ribbon of cloud,
claim the mountain.

Wind shimmers through falling leaves.
Oak and aspen raise
silent limbs
toward an indigo sky.
The clouds open.
She stands on tiptoe
and strains to reach the edge of night,
to see beyond the reach of sky
over the rim of here
into after.

© Doraine Bennett, 2009
Published in the Birmingham Arts Journal


  1. One of my favorite poems EVER. I was hoping you would share it as part of this series. I read a book of poems recently that I will send to you -- AFTER BEAUTY by Yvonne Postelle. The collection is really about how everything is love. Even pain is love.
    Thank you for sharing this, Doraine. Love to you, friend!

  2. It's so beautiful, Doraine. I see that others know it, but I haven't, & love that you shared again. Each part, I see, holds part of the journey, and that last "over the rim of here/into after" is full of hope, at least to me. Thank you. (It's been years since I've seen Steel Magnolias-I still remember some scenes!)

    1. Thanks, Linda. Irene is the Poetry Editor at Birmingham Arts Journal where the poem was published some years back.

  3. This is so powerful and poignant. I like the fourth canto best, the "contained agony" reminds me of Auden's "Stop the Clocks."

    Thanks for sharing about the cathartic experience of remembering, grieving again, and writing about it.

    1. Jama, I went and found Auden's poem. I don't think I've ever read it. Such beauty in the sadness. I love that we can do that with words.

  4. So beautiful, Doraine. I really have no words. Thank you so much for sharing this journey with us.

  5. Dori, the phrase "Someone moved the cradle" struck me. It is quiet, but speaks to the isolation and loss that mothers feel in this unimaginable situation.

    I am working on a book (for adults) about a late term stillbirth that affected my family. If you ever feel up to it, please contact me at and I will tell you more about the project.

    1. I would love to hear about your project. Will email.

  6. What a powerful, touching, and sad poem...I'm sorry for your loss, and I suppose this hits me harder than it might otherwise, because my wife & I are currently expecting - so this has an extra impact on me. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Matt, thanks for telling me that. I am usually careful not to talk about this with expectant parents. It can be easy to plant a seed of fear. It didn't even occur to me here as I was writing. Go home and rejoice in the miracle of that little one growing in the womb. Pray over her and bless her, or him. She will hear. Blessings to you and your family. Precious life!

  7. So beautiful, so sad, and so evocative of a particular type of grief - how brave you were to write this, Dori...thank you for sharing it with us today.

  8. Wow, the sorrow is palatable. Amazing use of your loss to create something so moving. Thank you for sharing it with us today.

    1. Pain, redeemed and healed, is something to treasure. Thanks for reading.

  9. This poem took my breath away. You have dug deep!

    #3 especially resonates in how the smells and sights and tasks of home are all affected by this great sorrow and the grieving. Someone else mentioned the the moved cradle. That struck me too.

    Also in #4:

    "like a childless mother
    who cups her breasts,

    hands taut against fevered glands
    that run with milky tears."

    ...brings back memories of my own miscarriages (though not full-term).

    Violet N.

    1. You know the thing that has surprised me over the years? It's just how many women have suffered miscarriages. So many. Again, that quiet grief that we so often do not share. Thanks for reading, Violet, and for you kind comments.

  10. I saw the pieta in Rome and was moved to tears. Your poem moved me too. What a mix of pure sadness, raw grief, and bitter anger. Thanks for sharing. I'm sure your willingness to share your grief must help others deal with their own.

    1. I've only seen pictures of the pieta. I can imagine that I would be speechless standing before it. I have long loved Holman Hunt's painting, "The Light of the World". When we were in London a few years back, I saw it in St. Paul's Cathedral. That was exactly my response. I just had to sit and absorb it.

  11. As Bridget commented, the pain in this is palpable. The middle of the poem is the hardest to read and feel, but the healing that comes is a small relief.

    My teaching partner is expecting any day now. She told about a moment of panic when she couldn't feel movement. A close friend had a full-term stillbirth. After reading your poem, I can better understand their feelings.

    1. That's good, Mary Lee. I'm so glad this has given some understanding. My heart goes out to your friends. Rejoice with the one. Grieve with the other. Just having friends present is important.

  12. Thank you for such a powerful poem and story that precedes the poem.

    You wrote these amazing words. I can see that you have climbed to that high place, and continue the climb even higher.

    Thanks for telling of the journey.

    A high place
    demands she climb the face,
    risk an uncertain step,
    scale the crag,
    shout her name to the wind,
    reach out her hand,
    spread her fingers,
    grasp the ribbon of cloud,
    claim the mountain.

  13. Thank you, Steve. There is something truly miraculous about seeing the world from that high place. Miracles come in all shapes and sizes, and often in the most unlikely places.

  14. Dori--so beautiful.

    Your "perfect but for breath" caught me, as did "the milky tears" and the photo of the pieta.

    I think of each death in war and how every death creates circles and circles of grief like a pebble dropped in a pond.

    Thank you for your generosity--sharing grief is a generous act.

  15. Oh. This made me cry. I didn't read it the day you posted it, but I've been going back over your last few posts after reading yesterday's. So painful and so beautiful.

    I had a miscarriage between my two children, and I started trying to write about it a few years ago, and couldn't. This makes me think that maybe some day I will be ready to write about it. Thank you for sharing this amazing poem.

  16. So, so beautiful. Thank you for sharing this. That last stanza is just stunning....

  17. Dear Dorie, Did you mean to link April 26, 2013 Poetry Friday to this post?

  18. Dori--Thank you for sharing this with us. It is shattering. My MIL lost her firstborn to full-term stillbirth, and I feel like I have shared something of her pain, too, along with yours. Hugs.