Daily Archives: February 8, 2012

A Poem for Elliott Benson

Today I got an email from my friend Phil in New York – a dear friend from graduate school who has already seen me, ten years ago, through a difficult time. A few weeks ago I received a beautiful letter from him, and I wrote an email this morning to thank him for that, and to tell him about Ronan — what was new, how I was feeling, coping, living. I told him that life after Ronan, that after life, seems impossible sometimes to imagine, that I often cannot see myself living in it even though I’ll still be alive. I was writing this before breakfast and had already burst into tears three times. About thirty minutes later Phil wrote me back, and it was tears again — in the oatmeal this time. I do a lot of that these days — crying — and on this day, as is often the case, it is prompted by gratitude. Crying, sometimes, can be a kind of grace, especially if someone can hold you in that space, can ride that wave.

Phil reminded me of why I keep writing about Ronan, why it’s important, why I must go on thinking, working, living, being. It was what I most needed to hear.

Last Friday my friend Becky’s daughter, Elliott, passed away. Becky is and was a kind of grief mentor for me — she has been there for late night emails, questions, fears, everything. I think about her and her family every day. And about Elliott, a beautiful little girl whose presence, last March, was a kind of healing. From the very beginning, Becky and Elliott were my guides — how to suffer and survive. I went back to Phil’s book while I fed Ronan his prunes, and found a poem that resonated with the moment, with the passing of this life, with the helplessness I feel to assuage the suffering of another mother.

So this is the first section of a poem by Phil from his book Meditations on Rising and Falling. A beautiful poem for a beautiful girl who was loved wholly, completely, unconditionally — all the days of her life. Held by the hands of her parents, her sister, and by many who knew and loved her. 


Two Hands


We don’t, in truth, prepare

adequately, competently



for this. The letter

that arrives or, eventually,



the doorbell unfingered

still. The word un-

furled. We learn


from what we fear to run,

but this — what nothing

taught us the way


away from — runs with us.

With, a word we once loved.

The jacket we first slip


out of, then fold before the railing,

the finches building, even

as the island is sinking,


their nests. 

We each must make our peace

with what is evident


though mistakes are made — 

fearing you’ve misplaced 

God, you decide you might


have been misplaced, might

be about to be scooped 

into arms, blue and up.


-From Meditations on Rising and Falling (University of Wisconsin Press, 2008)