Cavafy: That dead café where they used to go together

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...When he went to the café that evening—
he happened to have some vital business there—
to that same café where they used to go together,
it was a knife in his heart,
that dead café where they used to go together.

Constantine Cavafy (1863–1933), Greek from Alexandria, Egypt. Poem "Lovely White Flowers" (Ωραία λουλούδια και άσπρα ως ταίριαζαν πολύ) from C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems (1975), translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard

Όταν το βράδυ επήγεν — έτυχε μια δουλειά,
μια ανάγκη του ψωμιού του — στο καφενείον όπου
επήγαιναν μαζύ: — μαχαίρι στην καρδιά του
το μαύρο καφενείο — όπου επήγαιναν μαζύ.

 

Photo by Kimmo Räisänen


In the midst of life we are in death

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In the midst of life we are in death 
of whom may we seek for succour,
but of thee, O Lord,
who for our sins
art justly displeased?

Yet, O Lord God most holy,
O Lord most mighty,
O holy and most merciful Saviour,
deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death.

An anonymous Latin poem from Gregorian chant, later in The Book of Common Prayer. The English version seems to be by Thomas Cranmer (1489–1556)

Media vita in morte sumus
quem quaerimus adjutorem
nisi te, Domine,
qui pro peccatis nostris
juste irasceris?

Sancte Deus,
sancte fortis,
sancte et misericors Salvator:
amarae morti ne tradas nos.
 
 

Photo by David Berry on Flickr

Vonnegut: The Tralfamadorian view of death

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The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral....It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever. When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in a bad condition in that particular moment, but that same person is just fine in plenty of other moments.

The narrator in Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut (1922–2007)

 

Photo by Gerd Altmann on Pixabay


Akhmatova: And the stone word fell on my still-living breast

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Verdict

And the stone word fell
On my still-living breast.
Never mind, I was ready.
I will manage somehow.

Today I have so much to do:
I must kill memory once and for all,
I must turn my soul to stone,
I must learn to live again—

Unless . . . Summer's ardent rustling
Is like a festival outside my window.
For a long time I've foreseen this
Brilliant day, deserted house.

Anna Akhmatova (1889–1966), The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova, translated by Judith Hemschemeyer. Zephyr Press.

Приговор (1939)

И упало каменное слово
На мою еще живую грудь.
Ничего, ведь я была готова,
Справлюсь с этим как-нибудь.

У меня сегодня много дела:
Надо память до конца убить,
Надо, чтоб душа окаменела,
Надо снова научиться жить.

А не то... Горячий шелест лета,
Словно праздник за моим окном.
Я давно предчувствовала этот
Светлый день и опустелый дом.


Golby: Oh man this is going to suck

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My parents are dead and I’m starting to get to the age where my friends’ parents are dying, too, and I feel I should know what to say to them. And I never really do: instances of grief, I have found, are unique, two never coming in the same shape, and they can be piercing and hard-edged and they can be like passing through deep, dark treacle or they can be like a long, slow-passing cloud. There is no one single catch-all solution to dealing with the worst life has to throw at you. 
 
But what I do always say is: oh man, this is going to suck. 
 
...And I say: at one point you are going to become keenly aware that everyone is judging you for the way you outwardly behave when someone close to you dies, and I need to tell you that that is a nonsense. You are going to feel a dirty little feeling of guilt. If there’s a long illness involved, there might be this horrible, metallic-tasting feeling of relief, one too hard and real for you to admit to yourself is there. You will do weird things and behave weirdly and not even know it is happening.
 

Michelle Leatherby: Please endorse me on LinkedIn for "Good at Grieving"

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During my time at your company, I have grown tremendously. Recently, I developed perhaps my greatest professional strength: grieving in a way that isn’t super inconvenient to others. When I returned to work after The Event (see how I used “The Event” so I didn’t force you to think about my trauma in detail?), my new skillset blossomed. It is with the utmost humility that I request your endorsement of the followings skills:

Got dressed.

Returned after just 3 bereavement and 2 personal days despite everyone in my family taking more time and feeling like a big giant meanie mean.

Endured a pre-meeting sympathy hug.

Only cried at work twice, and when no one was looking.

Brought back The Event leftovers, but referred to them as “desserts from home” so others didn’t have to think about my misfortune.

Stopped drinking office coffee due to a constant heightened state of anxiety following The Event.

Responded “good!” when a coworker asked me how I’m doing.

Responded “good!” when a different coworker asked me how I’m doing, and then when they clarified “no, but how are you really doing?” gave them enough information to make them feel important but not enough to actually give insight into the deep, emotionally shattering anguish I experience on a daily basis.

Wore a color!

Only listened to one Bon Iver album too loud.

Ate more than a handful of almonds and less than an entire cake for lunch.

Channeled personal stress into work stress, creating the most perfect and organized Excel spreadsheet of all time.

Said “totally” in response to a coworker deeming the loss of an email attachment as “traumatic.”

Showed up.

Thanked a coworker for the flowers placed on my desk the day of The Event that were dead by the time I arrived back at work, reminding me of The Event.

Smiled and sang happy birthday to a work acquaintance despite the more-present-than-ever feeling that life is fleeting and should be spent with those whom you love most.

Bathed.

Did not throw every stapler, computer, and office chair when a coworker asked via g-chat “So, things getting back to normal now?”

Dissociated at the water cooler less than 10 times.

Pretended to relate to a manager’s bad day, which was caused by a soggy sandwich.

Refrained from divulging sad weekend plans that included wine consumed alone and The Event-related paperwork.

Breathed.

When coworkers said “I can’t imagine,” resisted responding “Well, then let me paint you a picture” and then launching into an overwrought description of my trauma.

Breathed.

Abstained from screaming in the face of every person older than the one I lost in The Event, asking why they deserve to live longer.

Breathed.

Avoided confiscating the computer of anyone who sent sympathy via email and insinuated that The Event was God’s Plan™.

Breathed.

Did not get in my car during my lunch break, turn on the ignition, crank the radio as loud as possible, scream with as much lung power as an entire high school band wind section, and drive straight into the nearest body of water.

Breathed.

Kept going.

Michelle Leatherby
on Twitter @MichelleLoserby

Thanks to McSweeney's, which published this piece on 5 October 2018


Photo credit: Canon EOS 70d at MaxPixel


Mohammed Assaf, age 12, on his mother

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Aleppo, Syria in December 2016
 

The Word Ummī— My Mother

My beloved mother.
When I go to my house, the pain of missing her
Arrives before me.

Mohammed Assaf of Syria, age 12 when he wrote this.
Mohammed lives in England now and his poem is in
England: Poems from a School (2018), edited by Kate Clanchy


Georg Heym: The last watch

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How dark your sleeps are
and your hands so cold.
Are you already so far away
you don't hear me any more?

Under the flickering lights
you are so sad and old,
and your lips are gruesome
clenched stiffly forever.

In the morning the silence will already be here
and maybe in the air
still the rustling of wreaths
and a decaying smell.

But the nights will become
emptier now, year after year,
here where your head lay and your breathing
was always so soft.

    –Georg Heym (1887-1912)

Letzte Wache

Wie dunkel sind deine Schläfen
und deine Hände so schwer,
bist du schon weit von dannen und hörst mich nicht mehr?

Unter dem flackenden Lichte
bist du so traurig und alt,
und deine Lippe sind grausam
in ewiger Starre gekrallt.

Morgen schon ist hier das Schweigen
und vieilleicht in der Luft
noch das Rascheln der Kränze
und ein verwesender Duft.

Aber die Nächte werden
leerer nun, Jahr um Jahr,
hier, wo dein Haupt lag und leise
immer dein Atem war.


Message from a dead father to his child

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Before long I will leave this earth. I am trying to stay calm, to talk with you for the first and last time on this paper. I fear you can’t imagine what it’s like, alas. To face this moment and be unable to see you once, to hug you once, to kiss you once ... I am heartbroken. My regret is unending. 

  –Huang Wen-kung 黃溫恭 (1920–1953), a political prisoner condemned to execution in 1950s Taiwan, writing to his unborn child. The family was told he had killed himself. His daughter finally received her father's letter in 2008, at age 56, after her daughter found it in government archives.

黃溫恭

我不久就要和世間永別了。用萬分的努力來鎮靜心腦,來和妳做一次最初而最終的紙上談話吧。我的這心情 恐怕妳不能想像吧! 嗚呼!臨於此時不能見妳一面,抱妳一回, 吻妳一嘴…………我甚感遺憾! 長恨不盡!