The Etymology of Grief

Grief is:

An empty pillow book

Waiting for someone to change the subject

Ink spilled on white pants or a white sheet: ink from a pen, ink from a squid, blue-black and slimy

Sighing a lot

Feeling naked in private and feeling private in public.

The soundtrack of the life of a baby: Burl Ives, Sinead O’Connor, Natalie Merchant, They Might be Giants, Ella Fitzgerald, The Story, Bruce Springsteen

Writing a fantasy novel (already a bestseller in online pre-orders)

Running amok

Using its knowledge of symbiosis against you

Bulimic, anorexic, gluttonous, abstemious and possessed of other varying appetites


Responding to a simple question with a trilogy

The sea, wherever it is found

A blister slowly shaping itself to the bottom of a foot

Happy in an expatriate bar that is empty of locals

Turbulence in an airplane as soon as you are handed a cup of hot coffee or tomato juice or, if flying internationally in coach/tourist class, a plastic cup full of red wine

A hand on an ass when it is not welcome there

A long nail in need of clipping

Airport food

A sudden nosebleed


Faithful to the last

History misspelled by an accidental keystroke: shitory

An eight-hour time change every five minutes

Farting in public while standing naked on a table while people discuss you

Impulsive and cantankerous: a terrible travel companion

Time. All clocks. Every watch, even Swiss-made

A stuffed panda with a single ear that has been forgotten on a bus

A stereotypical image of a dictator: broad shoulders tapering to a narrow waist, a jagged ponytail with furiously splitting ends, busy eyes, bushy eyebrows

Walking around with booze on its breath

A dog that barks all night until it is kicked

Green and slippery, like the truth, like a lie

A bird halfway between the lowly pigeon and the self-righteous hawk, circling

A story by Kafka

Dreaming of its future taxi-driver, asleep in his bed. Does he have children? A boyfriend and/or a wife?

Endlessly resourceful

The stupidity of being told how to use a seat back flotation device and a seatbelt in the event of a real aerial catastrophe

A half-read book

Worrying about a beloved friend staying in Paris in a rented flat. Is the roof secure? Is there rain in the forecast? Did she find milk at the store? What is she eating? Are strangers smiling at her on the street, and would that be a good or a bad thing?

An endless conversation with past and future selves in shouts and whispers

An unwashed nightgown on a dirty hook

Sudden chatter of sunlight, everywhere

A skinny rat swimming past a subway car during a rainstorm, the car stalled out and bobbing, swaying

Trash from the upstairs neighbors flying past your window

Not telling you anything

Chasing a coin across the floor before it drops out of reach under a floorboard

Amateur at everything

An unfinished letter

A stinky air-freshener called “Summer Daffodil” or “Sporty Grape”

A vacation in the middle of the ocean, crappy raft optional

The phrase: “getting accustomed.” And this one: “being brave”

A shoddy translation of something else that it is itself afraid of and cannot name

A stack of postcards from places you’ve never been tied together with a rubber band, discovered in the bedside drawer of your favorite friend

4 responses to “The Etymology of Grief

  1. You blow me away.

    This reminds me of Michael Ondaatje’s “Elimination Dance” which stirs me in different ways each time I read it.

    Thank you.

  2. Alma Luz Villanueva

    I feel each one…

  3. Genevieve Steidtmann

    I really loved this one. Touched me in many way.

    Love to you!

  4. Chris Abrams (Cousin Jim's wife)

    I think about Ronan and you (his parents) every day. It always jerks my heart to read your writings… but they are so important as they teach us not to take anything for granted and to appreciate each day as a gift… most times… if we can.
    Chris from VT

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