Theodicy (poem)


for Wendy

If they could, these words would wrap around
the questions like a cocooning blanket.
They’d devise an argument, foolproof,
dispelling all nuances of Why?
They’d console you moment by moment.
They’d answer all your grief.

But if they could, I’d say, No, don’t accept
this poem with its comforting lies
that render your loss inconsequential.

There’s no answer or summing up
to replace her breath for breath.
There’s no explanation — as if the senseless
could be willed into sensibility! — to numb
or dumb down incomprehension.
No incantation of what-if’s. As if
the turn of a line could force the man
careless with his life to roll back
his boozefume truck to take care for hers.
As if words could uncrush her,
could cancel the ambulance,
cancel the pronouncement, return to her
those last brief living moments,
and extend them.

The world is altered.
The poem, imperfect, cannot explain.
It can only record the fact
and the knowledge of the ache opened in you,
borne with no less love
than the ache of childbirth when you brought her forth.
Such a gift. With her, the world shifted.
And now, senselessly, it shifts again.

About this poem

Nine years ago, in July 2000, my friend Wendy’s daughter Jessie was killed by a drunk driver.  I wrote this poem for Wendy.  But mourning can be a hard & private thing, & I didn’t want to intrude — it took me a year to feel able to give it to her.

We talked today about the deaths of our fathers, hers many years ago, mine just last May — he would have turned 90 earlier this week if he’d still been here — and also about Jessie’s death, about loss & acceptance (or not) & forgiveness (or not) & redemption (or not).  What she said to me is not for me to pass on (but look forward to her memoir one day!).  I can, however, say that it’s a wonderful thing to know her, who in the face of such loss, still carries with her such openness and love of life.

(Theodicy is the theological term for the justice of god(s).  Does bad stuff happen to good people? Take a guess.  May good nevertheless come, to all of us.)

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