there are hierarchies of grief

on days like these my heart thinks of you;

when the rest of the world grieves for a world they think is gone,
when we’ve awoken to a nightmare we didn’t think was possible,
when i am afraid that i can’t make it to the next sunrise and i don’t know if the tears will ever stop,
when smiling seems like it might be a failure.

on days like these i find strength in your presence—

like a lighthouse on fire in
a storm i couldn’t find my
way out of alone.

You once told me the kitchen floor is the best place to cry;

recommended crawling to the refrigerator and crying to the beat of its hum.
gave us all songs to introduce us to the grief you fell in love with,
your generosity flowing from fingertips on that piano you don’t play, in poems and recordings, wrapping it’s arms around me, and telling all of us we can stay.
it is possible even when you’ve known
a grief such as this.

you told me i was like your child, so close to his age;

opened the door and hugged me and let me lie hungover on your couch until i got sober again.
texted “i need you” and trusted me enough to ask for help.
you were honest when you told me you needed to go to his gravesite alone;
it’s his mommy time.
you gave me the only picture i have of he and i together told me stories of memories i don’t have anymore, and you gave me three more cousins, too.
to hug and to hold and to laugh with and even if i don’t see you enough
you’ve given me family here.

and on days like these i think of you, my girl;

the length of you wrapped in scarves and borrowed jewelry, a skirt made of stars.

i think of the trust you refuse to stop giving as you get in the car on the bus on the plane i think of the ocean your
voice keeping us warm like the mediterranean sun\\back in september when i went to the west coast i found some little path to the ocean between great big houses on our way to the ferry so i could swim for you both.

i think of shooting stars
of our star
of the way you laugh
and how you get

i think of how you taught me to carry
and take care of the feathers, and
showed me where your little star so strong brought down a tree so we
could be with the water.

on days like these, my girl,
i close my eyes and listen for your harmonies,
as we learn to sing together in north dakota,
in flint michigan, somewhere in wisconsin,
where you kept us warm and i kept us covered,
where you kept us fed and i kept us moving.

on days like these my heart thinks of you and the love i am filled with because you are here.
and i know there have been mornings worse than this one.
i know that there is more strength in us than we can ever imagine.
i know that the only truth is the sun will rise and fall and rise again, spring will come and winter and fall again, and i’ll keep giving and loving and singing and crying and swimming and visiting.
i’ll keep on.

hu sukǂq̓ukni ʔaǂ ka manaǂa
thank you, our mothers.
i love you.

Questions and Answers

How/where do you find inspiration today?

There were a few years where I kind of stopped writing poetry all together. In order to begin writing again, I had to get into a practice. I began writing at least one haiku a day, at some point in the day (usually right before I went to bed). These evolved into longer haiku-series type poems. Many of them read like a 5/7/5 syllable journal, but some of them are really strong pieces of work. My commitment to writing this small poem each day (helped by the pressure of a facebook audience that began to really enjoy seeing my #haikuaday posts) helped me learn how to make time for writing—even a few minutes—every day. In this way, my inspiration was often just my day; I have a whole series from when my cat got fleas, as an example. But this practice got me back to writing longer poems, most of which I would say centre on my relationships—to my friends, family, nation, the natural world, current events, the stranger in the coffee shop. In general, I guess, I write about how I interact with the world.

I’m sure everyone says this, but just keep writing. The only thing that makes you a writer is writing! I’m understanding this more and more as I get older. If I think about the audience too much, I get stuck. Make writing part of your every day. Find the time.

What inspired or motivated you to write this poem?

I wrote this poem on the day that Trump got elected as the 45th president of the United States. I was so horrified by the news, and yet I couldn’t stop thinking about a few of the women in my life—the strongest women I know—mothers who had lost their children. I kept thinking that while we all felt the world was ending, I knew women who had woken to worse mornings than this. I drew upon their strength to keep going. I am indebted to these women for teaching me how to continue, in the face of such grief. Each of them was incredibly supportive of me publishing the poem, as well, and I am grateful for that, because it was written with such love. I hope people feel that love, the hope within it—the kind of hope that can only come from crying on the kitchen floor.

What did you find particularly challenging in writing this poem?

The challenge in this poem came for me during the editing process. I often perform poetry and so many of my poems are written in long unpunctuated lines broken up only to show myself where to pause. In moving from a performance piece to a published text, I had to really spend time thinking about ways to guide the reader. Some of these spaces, as an example the “my girl” line on the end of the first page, need to breathe. It was really difficult deciding how I would do that—I must have moved each section around 20 or 30 times. And now, I think it will be changed in the way I perform it (for the better), because I really had to think about how the sections fit together and what they look like on the page. One of my goals is to not feel forceful in the editing, but simply to allow the reader time to sit with each section as needed, especially in a poem like this with such strong emotions attached to it.

Please note that works on the Canadian Literature website may not be the final versions as they appear in the journal, as additional editing may take place between the web and print versions. If you are quoting reviews, articles, and/or poems from the Canadian Literature website, please indicate the date of access.