In A World Full of Falling, Full of Grief, also Solace – The Poetry of Danusha Laméris

American poet Danusha Laméris


The woman standing in the Whole Foods aisle
over the pyramid of fruit, neatly arranged
under glossy lights, watched me drop
a handful into a paper bag, said how do you do it?
I always have to check each one.
I looked down at the dark red fruit, each cherry
good in its own, particular way
the way breasts are good or birds or stars.
Doesn’t everything that shines carry its own shadow?
A scar across the surface, a worm buried in the sweet flesh.
Why not reach in, take whatever falls into your hand.

Danusha Laméris (1971 – )from The Moons of August, Autumn House Press, 2014

When it comes to her poetry, it appears 2019 was a great year for Danusha Laméris. First her poem Small Kindnesses was featured in Tracy K. Smith’s podcast The Slowdown and a few weeks later American poet Naomi Shihab Nye featured it again in her poetry column in the New York Times. Not so great was the pandemic, Covid-19, arriving early in 2020 as her second book of poems was set to come out. But, luckily, thanks to livestreaming her book Bonfire Opera was featured on Rattle’s Rattlecast on May 6th, 2020.

The warmth of her presence on that podcast was captivating. But what intrigued me most was something she said about teaching her students about irritant and solace. “Writers seem to have the same irritant all their life. You can look at a poet and ask what is their irritant?…Sharon Olds, there is an irritant in her around close intimate relationships…. My irritant is grief. How do you deal with grief? My solace is beauty which comes through in some of the erotic poems I write. I was talking to Ellen Bass (American poet) and her solace is that things are what they are. Just what is. And I want something pretty apparently.” Tim Green, Rattle podcast host and editor disagreed about her solace. “Your solace,” he said” is being a creature in a body.”

Regardless of what Danusha thinks her solace is I find it in so many of her poems. Even the hurting ones. And in the epigraph poem for this blog post. This solace:

Doesn’t everything that shines carry its own shadow?
A scar across the surface, a worm buried in the sweet flesh.
Why not reach in, take whatever falls into your hand.

The solace of acceptance. “Why not reach in, take whatever falls into your hand.” This from a woman whose son died and her brother. The courage to say this. To not cherry pick, so to speak, the bad from the good but to know the beauty within the shadow and the shadow within the beauty. And when she talks about “a scar across the surface” I am reminded of these lines from Gregory Orr’s line from Aftermath Inventory in his most recent book The Last Love Poem I Will Ever Write:

My wounds?
Somehow, I
Grow through them,
Aren’t they also a boon?

My scars?
They might shine
Brighter than stars.

This strange alchemy. Where grief, sorrow can turn into something beautiful. Something where love and acceptance shine through. This is not to minimize grief, its horrors, but to acknowledge the possibility of its transformation. What can carry us through it. What seems to carry Danusha through her searing griefs. My dear friend and fine poet, Heidi Garnett, expressed this so beautifully in an email to me today: It takes immense courage to let something germinate in the soil of our grief, to be brave enough to let the seed grow into something beautiful.  Like this poem about Danusha’s son where his transformation after death is literal and metaphoric: he lives on literally and also in his mother’s words.


Who is nothing, now but a few fistfulls of ash. Not even that, since ash
dissolves and is taken into the bodies of plants, or swept into the air
on the wind. He’s so very fine he slips undetected
through a whale’s baleen, or a beetle gullet. He can even rise
through a stalk of grass with the upward pull of phloem
in these first green days of spring. He has no use, now, for the soft
black hair through which I wouold run a slender comb,
nor for his oddly shaped thumbs. Nor anything in this world.
Though the things of the world may have use of him,
his molecules filtering through them – carbon, oxygen, nitrogen,
a whisper of hysdrogen – the modest building blocks of life,
quietly, and without announcement.

Danusha Laméris from Bonfire Opera, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020

The solace she finds. Like the simple but not always easily remembered comforts recalled in Small Kindnesses celebrated by Nye and Smith and also in a window in Denver and posted on Danusha’s Twitter feed :

Small Kindnesses, a poem by Danusha Laméris. Photo Credit: from her Twitter feed

Small Kindnesses

I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead—you first,” “I like your hat.”

Danusha Laméris from BONFIRE OPERA, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020

What an idea that these small moments can be “the true dwelling of the holy.” Even if just for a moment. But Danusha, we know, , knows how hard it is to separate darkness from light and light from darkness. How much she understands the yes and no. The yes and no she articulates so beautifully in this poem from her first collection chosen for the Autumn House Poetry Prize by American poet Naomi Shihab Nye.


One tossed to Aphrodite,
begins a war. Eve, that fateful bite
into the crisp red skin.
Distracted by the sight of golden apples
a virgin huntress loses a race
and must marry. Each apple
is a kind of failure. The body
calling our desire. Isn’t there
always something we want
more than our own happiness?
A pull toward the Fall.
Haven’t we all loved too much?
Snow White bit into the flesh
laced with poison.
Love is something we fall into.
Fall, the time of ripening apples.
In England one falls pregnant.
Life requires collapses
holds it out to us
sweet and fragrant.

Danusha Laméris from The Moons of August, Autumn House, 2014

The writer Laurens van der Post in the film  “Hasten Slowly” says that that there is something more important than happiness and that is meaning. I wonder if that is what Danusha is getting at when she says: Isn’t there/ alweays something we want/ more than our own happiness?/ A pull toward the Fall. All the meanings in that world “Fall” especially when apples are mentioned! That garden. That “Fall”. Life’s journey through all its “falls”, its losses of innocence which also so often bring their own beauty, hard won joys. We keep keep eating the apple, even though…even though…. And here in the autumn garden with all its beauties outside my house on Vancouver Island , already the falling is happening. The reminders of all the joy in that beauty, yet, the sorrow coming. The falling Danusha celebrates in this post’s epigraph poem: Why not reach in, take whatever falls into your hand.

And dare I ask in an echo of Danusha: isn’t beauty a kind of failure? And life? All its dying. But, oh, its sweetness. Its fragrance. The solace of that. The solace of Danusha Laméris.

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