Let Poetry Speak It – Grief but Also Happiness -For My Friends Laura and Walt – Their Son Killed in an Accident

American poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Meals of Grief & Happiness


I believe in the tears of an elephant.
How they stamp the ground
and forget they are in musth—
panting—and cinnamon shrubs
or piles of sugarcane can’t tempt
them to stop their cycle of grief.
I believe I the broken heart
of an elephant. When a companion
dies, I believe in the rocking back
and forth, and dry pebbly tongue.
I believe in wanting to wear only
dust, hear only dust, taste only dust.
I believe in wanting to touch nothing
and wanting nothing to touch you.


I believe in the tail wag of a dog.
The toothy grin of an apple-fed horse,
the shine from the wet in the eyes
wild with joy. I like the movements
in a chimp’s fine fur as he swings
from branch to rubber tire and thumps
his companion on the head with a bright read ball.
I believe in the single sugar cube sparking
on a small ceramic dish as we sit at a café—
me sipping soda with a paper straw,
you leaning in on close to point to something
that neither of us have ever tried—but we will today.
The waiter will say good, good choice my favorite,
as he gathers up his vinyl menus and leaves us.

Aimee Nezhukumatathil from OCEANIC, Copper Canyon Press, 2018

One of the wonders of Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the feel of her last name in the mouth! That’s once you figure out how to pronounce it properly! She has poems about her name, how people mangle it. Once I figured to ignore the h after the z the name slipped off my tongue with ease. Like this: Nez-uh-kum-a-tat-hill!

I have profiled Aimee before in a blog post. A professor of English and Creative Writing in the MFA program at the University of Mississippi, she has written four full length poetry collections including her latest, OCEANIC, which was released within the last few weeks.

I am part way through the collection and already I have encountered a standout come-at-it slant erotic poem based on the Lucille Bogan song, Shave ‘Em Dry. Nothing on the slant in Bogan’s song! How I enjoyed the fun, the tenderness and openness in Nezhukumatathil’s poem When Lucille Bogan Sings Shave ‘Em Dry.

But a few poems later I was arrested and frisked by her poem Meals of Grief and Happiness. Handcuffed to the poem’s teeter totter balancing point – grief on one end and happiness on the other.

It’s only been a few weeks since the horrific bus crash in Saskatchewan that claimed sixteen lives of passengers on the Humboldt Broncos Hockey team bus. That grief. Then the grief from the ten murdered in Toronto, killed by a van. And then closer to home for me on Bowen Island, offshore West Vancouver, 22 year-old Collin, oldest son of friends of mine, Laura and Walt, killed last week in an accident on his dirt bike on Radar Hill on the island.

The grief my friends must be feeling. A grief I can only imagine Nezhukumatathil comes close to expressing when she says:

I believe in wanting to wear only
dust, hear only dust, taste only dust.
I believe in wanting to touch nothing
and wanting nothing to touch you.

For my friends, the second half of the poem far, far away. But I pray for some moments like these, however bitter sweet  before they  get there safely on a longer-term basis. The happiness of the ordinary, the happiness of a couple trying something new at a restaurant. Both open and willing. The grace, the love in that. My friends, this grief now. I hope, I pray, happiness again, later.

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