The holiday season is here, the family season is here. This time of year can be joyful, but also especially painful for families that have dealt with loss—our sympathy goes out to all those who face the beast of sorrow in these winter months. For November’s PWA, our editors sought out poems that nod to this season’s duality: like Laura Kasiskche’s poem in Poetry Magazine that pinpoints the mystery of a mother-daughter relationship, like Victor Ugwu “Fragile” that lays bare the vulnerable mess of all families, or like Madeleine Wattenburg’s “Osteoclasts” which seeks to discover what can be repaired, and what can’t.
don’t cry no one’s to blame and nothing’s ruined, nothing’s wrong there’s no discomfort
there seems to be no pain there’s only time, letting something looser and I’ve made the
preparations it will die when I die
from The Eavesdropper, or What I Thought I Heard My Mother Talking About on the Phone, in Another Room, Thirty-Six Years Ago
by Laura Kasiskche in POETRY
A phonecall? A prayer? A seánce? Laura Kasiskche’s poem floats like a half-remembered dream, touching down on the edges of sense and reason just enough to suggest an animate, haunting, and unnameable truth. The poem deploys gothic imagery within a deceptively domestic schema: sleeping husbands and eavesdropping daughters, kitchen table conversations during Christmastime. You feel rather than see—because seeing would be incomplete—a delicate strand of unspoken reality between a mother and her daughter, and her future daughter, captured in a jar of salt water and held secret for thirty-six years.
my father’s body was simple,
it had a lack my body carried into
All families lie fragile in the end, none immune to trauma or pain or hidden hurt. The speaker’s display of family in “Fragile” shines familiar—the poem gives a sibling in distress, a mother losing her body to the family, a father lost, aching, lacking, but hopeful. Victor Ugwu performs the truism of poetry with “Fragile”: the specificity reveals the universality; and the poem serves us well to remind all that our family is neither alone nor special, a state of equitable fragility.
Our bones remodel themselves all the time, my father
through the phone. He is explaining to me how
deer lose their antlers each spring and people break
their knees and hips. Recently I have thought of changing
my hair and my attitude toward the person I love.
by Madeleine Wattenburg in Sixth Finch
Great poems often reveal intimacy like the night’s first star, an authentic private exploration and search for truth amidst the dark void background of ambiguous, layered, unraveling reality. “Osteoclasts” is essentially a meditation on losing love, the speaker seeking answers in the bits of words and phrases and memories of her familial past, latching on, as we do, to the minutia of graspable fact: in this case, broken bones.