What the Living Do

I have just finished reading a moving collection of poems by Marie Howe, called “What the Living Do”.

The poems are a compassionate memorial to illness and the loss of Howe’s brother, John, and other friends. The empathetic poems deal with grief and loss and are a sometimes pain-filled celebration of “what the living do” after the death of a loved one. The language is immediate and accessible and while the poems can be sad and heartbreaking, they are ultimately redemptive.

Here is the title poem from this collection, a poem which really touched my heart and gave me a renewed appreciation of being alive and appreciating the simple pleasures of daily life.

What the Living Do

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil
      probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty
      dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we
      spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep headstrong blue, and the sunlight
      pours through

the open living room windows because the heat’s on too high in here,
      and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street
      the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying
      along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my
      wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush:
      This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called
      that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter
      to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss — we want more and more
      and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in
      the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a
      cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m
I am living, I remember you.

 From the book, What the Living Do: Poems, by Marie Howe, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1998