Two weeks ago today my sister was driving with her two grandchildren along a highway.
According to reports, she swerved to miss a dog, lost control of her vehicle which crossed over the median into on-coming traffic, and collided head-on with an 18-wheeler. Both she and her grandchildren were killed on impact.
I have been reeling from this news since I learned of it, only half-aware of the world around me, as my family struggles to cope with this tragic loss, near and far from where she lived. We all have our own ways of dealing with grief, and I found solace over these past weeks in poetry. I can only imagine the Muses guided me when I first opened Kevin Young’s poignant, comforting anthology, as this was the poem that greeted me in the pages:
My Sister, Who Died Young, Takes Up The Task
A basket of apples brown in our kitchen,
their warm scent is the scent of ripening,
and my sister, entering the room quietly,
takes a seat at the table, takes up the task
of peeling slowly away the blemished skins,
even half-rotten ones are salvaged carefully.
She makes sure to carve out the mealy flesh.
For this, I am grateful. I explain, this elegy
would love to save everything. She smiles at me,
and before long, the empty bowl she uses fills,
domed with thin slices she brushes into
the mouth of a steaming pot on the stove.
What can I do? I ask finally. Nothing,
she says, let me finish this one thing alone.
–Jon Pineda, from The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief & Healing, ed. by Kevin Young.
It is the poem I return to in this collection again and again; I remember conversations with my sister, most of which took place in the kitchen, with us washing dishes or preparing meals. So it seems appropriate I honor her with these words, since as yet I have none of my own. And for the time being, at least, I must leave off writing poems about the historic hunt by whalers, of whales.
But the words will come, eventually, and I will be transformed by them, as I have been transformed by grief. I await the ink, like a salve.