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Just Words – Like Tears, Like Rain

Emily Dickinson said : “After great pain, a formal feeling comes. The nerves sit ceremonious like tombs.”

Sometimes circumstances bend us almost to the breaking point – and we feel helpless and inadequate – like the fallen limb of a sycamore tree lying on the ground.

When Sue Walker was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996, when she couldn’t find the door to leave the doctor’s office and walked to the back of the building instead of the front, she began writing – poetry, fiction, articles, and essays.  When a father suffers a stroke and is in a coma, when a mother dies in an auto accident, when a plane crashes with 150 people on board, it is hard to concentrate, to put one foot in front of another. 

Alexis Saunders (center) with her parents. 

Alexis Saunders (center) with her parents. 

Writing is a panacea for pain.  Negative Capability Press published two books by a young girl in her 20s who was suffering from a malignant brain tumor.  She asked if she could be a part of an on-line poetry community designed for a class I was teaching.  Of course, I said “yes.”  She was an avid reader, a person whose comments were insightful and instructive, and most importantly, she wrote enough poems to fill two books following diagnosis and surgery. 

This is the final poem in Alexis Saunders’ book, “One More Chance”:

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i awoke this morning
and finally knew
there’s only so long
i can blame myself
for something I just didn’t do

you can avert your eyes
every time
i come into view
but there is only so long
i can blame myself for
something
i just didn’t do

turn your cold shoulder
when I approach but
there is only so long
i can blame myself
for something that
does not deserve your reproach

i can’t ask for your mercy
there’s nothing to forgive
i was only
i was just
i was only and just
i am only and just—trying to live

i can’t take back words
i just didn’t say
if i could have
i would have
who, can you tell me
would you want things this way

i awoke late this morning and
i finally knew
there’s only so long
I can blame myself
for something i just didn’t do

so, knowing your shoulder
and sharp, averted glance
i edged out of bed
glimpsed a sad face in the mirror
and decided that girl
just might deserve
at least one more chance


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There is a back story here.  When Negative Capability Press published a second book by Alexis Saunders, Megan Cary and I had the pleasure, indeed the honor of driving to Tampa and hand-delivering Girl in the Glass to Alexis.  I knew Alexis when she was just a baby. My twin sons and Alexis were present at each other’s first birthdays.  In the years that I knew Alexis, she was an inspiration, a model of courage in the years she confronted her own mortality, and it is with humility that Negative Capability Press can honor her on this 11th day of April and celebrate the power of words in the most trying of times.