“And how does a body break bread with the word when the word has broken”?
At first I read the question as, “how does a body break bread with the world when the world has broken,” which seemed especially apt following the poet’s recitation of a grandmother’s words: “Well you know death is death and none other.”
The world will break for all of us, while its concrete tasks linger.
The question is posed in C. D. Wright’s poem, “More Blues and the Abstract Truth,” which begins with unsettling, familiar physical images from a dream. The young speaker segues into visions of decay–of bodies and inanimate objects alike–and seeks answers from the grandmother who “used to grow so many things”: how does one “rise up again and rinse her mouth from the tap,” or “put in a plum tree,” or “go on drying the flatware”?
Thunderous loss stays with us forever (at very least in half-life form); it leaves a trail of questions which eventually boil down to, “What do I do now?” How do I continue plowing through daily tasks which continue unabated, as if the world were the same–tending to dogs, filling out financial aid forms, making dental appointments.
One answer to these questions can be found in a Naomi Shihab Nye poem, “Kindness“: you must both look outward and inward, and know sorrow so intimately that “it is only kindness that makes sense anymore, only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread….”
Daily bread and water still must be had.
But how do I inhabit the world as it looks now, tinged with black and blue? The details and demands of daily life have changed very little, and the larger, unanswerable questions have not changed at all: death remains as abstract as it ever was because, after all, I have only seen it from this side of the veil.
Faced with the immutable but unimaginable–death that “is none other”–it sometimes may be all we can do to robotically persist, until, gradually, we can find the extravagant and beautiful in the ordinary again.
So, back to my photograph: abstract blue art rendered entirely in commonplace water.
Water was the last thing my husband could take in. It formed a cool mist plume for him when the air grew too dry. We pressed small green swabs soaked in water to the roof of his mouth. When he last ventured from the hospital bed in what had been our dining room, he sat, a stone-quiet beagle earnestly looking up at him, and asked if I could add a drop of lemon. A dab of lemon-tinged water became his last meal.
Simple, plebeian water.
Frozen water on yet another shore formed planes of variegated blue. Irregular blocks–some unabashedly heart-shaped–settled only briefly and tentatively, then rearranged themselves into ever-changing canvases as others broke away into the ocean, where they made their way south and mingled with my husband’s ashes and those of countless others, cycling into steam, churning into monsoons, raining down on fields, making it possible for so many things to grow.