Elegy, Surrounded by Seven Trees
All Saints Cemetery, Wilmington, Delaware
Ordinary days deliver joy easilyagain & I can’t take it. If I could tell youhow her eyes laughed or describethe rage of her suffering, I mustadmit that lately my memoriesare sometimes like a colorwarping in my blue mind.Metal abandoned in rain. My motherwill not move. Which is to say thatsometimes the true color ofher casket jumps from my headlike something burnt downin the genesis of a struck flame.Which is to say that I missthe mind I had when I hadmy mother. I own what is yet.Which means I am alreadyholding my own absencein faith. I still carry a faded slip of paperwhere she once wrote a wordwith a pencil & crossed it out.From tree to tree, around her graveI have walked, & turned backif only to remind myselfthat there are some kinds ofpeace which will not bemoved. How awful to have suchwonder. The final way wonder itselfopened beneath my mother’s faceat the last moment. As if she wasa small girl kneeling in a puddle& looking at her face for the first time,her fingers gripping the loud,wet rim of the universe.
Excerpted from Seeing the Body: Poems.
Copyright © 2020 by Rachel Eliza Griffiths.
Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Rachel Eliza Griffiths is a poet and visual artist. Her recent collection of poetry and photography is Seeing the Body (W.W. Norton). Griffiths is a recipient of fellowships including Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, Cave Canem Foundation, Kimbilio, and Yaddo. Her literary and visual work has appeared widely, including The New Yorker, the Paris Review, Guernica, Tin House, and many others. Griffiths lives in New York City.
“Rachel Eliza Griffiths’ mother died around the same time as mine. As we both mourned, she sent me incandescent words to comfort me, phrases that read like invocations and felt like salves and balms. Her work has always wowed me with its beauty, depth, and luminosity, and there it was also healing me. Radiantly elegiac, this hybrid work of poetry and photographs is one we all need for living, loving, and letting go.”
—Edwidge Danticat, author of Everything Inside
“These poems are a gift—they remind me that grief can be the ground for transformation. In the midst of Griffiths’ loss, a series of metamorphoses occur—like a fairy tale or a myth, the poet transforms into a spider, then a snake, then a hawk, then prey. Then, like a myth, by the end Griffiths’ has found her true self—all along we have been in the midst of a song of praise.”
—Nick Flynn, author of This Is the Night Our House Will Catch Fire
“In this tender, harrowing volume, Rachel Eliza Griffiths voices the staggering desolation of daughters who must face that inevitable hollow—the loss of the mother. And although that hollow is the driving force of this collection, it is by no means the whole of it—elegy, unreeled in tender yet fiery vignettes, is paired with haunting and starkly revealing images that amplify the lyric as the poet contemplates the world beyond absence.”
—Patricia Smith, author of Incendiary Art