I had no idea my assumptions were so flammable
Until with one spark
My whole house roared up in flames.
Beliefs that mattered
Were transmuted into dancing energy.
That stout oak cabinet
On which my memories were framed for display
Whooshed skyward, leaving no shadow.
Even the framework
On which I might have reconstructed my sense of self
Was reduced to thin strips of ash.
My past and presumed future
Were left to vibrate in quantum uncertainty.
People tell me they’re sorry for my loss,
And then change the subject quickly,
Hoping to extinguish the fire of my grief
Before it spreads to their houses.
But would it be all bad if a grander conflagration
Brought down all the edifices of expectation
Shadowing my vacant lot
With smug walls of suburban stucco?
Then I might have others to join me
Standing all night on the open, ash-strewn ground,
Breathing the bracing air below pricks of distant light.
(Recently, I was at the bedside of a dear friend as he died. Then, I helped medical students grieve the sudden, unexplained death of one of their own – a student whom I knew personally. Then I presided at the memorial service of a clinical psychology graduate student who committed suicide. This poem results from my week of intense conversations with friends and students about the nature of life, death, and grief.)