Friday, December 04, 2009

Poetry Friday -- I Praise My Destroyer

Some of those close to me are dealing with the tragic loss of young lives, and others with the painful loss of parents or friends to cancer or Alzheimer's. It's easy to be angry and disbelieving and sad to the point of drowning.

from "Elegy" by Diane Ackerman

The world is breaking someone else's heart
today, the roses are busily mumbling scent,
all the greens of summer have blown apart...

...My own sorrow starts
small as China, then bulges to an Orient.
The world is breaking someone else's heart.
All the greens of summer have blown apart.

Eventually, acceptance is necessary in order to go on another day.

from "We Die" by Diane Ackerman

...Lost friend, you taught me lessons
I longed to learn, and this final one I've learned
against my will: the one spoken in silence,
warning us to love hard and deep,
clutch dear ones tighter, ransom each day,
the horror lesson I saw out of the corner of my eye
but refused to believe until now: we die.

And if we are to live joyfully in the midst of tragedy, loss, and the breaking of hearts, then we must learn to praise our destroyer.

from "I Praise My Destroyer" by Diane Ackerman

...Our cavernous brains
won't save us in the end,
though, heaven knows, they enhance the drama.
Despite passion's rule, deep play
and wonder, worry hangs
like a curtain of trembling beads
across every doorway.

But there was never a dull torment,
and it was grace to live
among the fruits of summer, to love by design,
and walk the startling Earth
for what seemed
an endless resurrection of days.

I praise life's bright catastrophes,
and all the ceremonies of grief.
I praise our real estate -- a shadow and a grave.
I praise my destroyer,
and will continue praising
until hours run like mercury
through my fingers, hope flares a final time
in the last throes of innocence,
and all the coins of sense are spent.

by Diane Ackerman
Random House, 1998
(my own copy, autographed by the author!)

(If you follow the link to Amazon and "Click to look inside," you can read the three poems I've excerpted in their entirety.)

The round up this week is at Wild Rose Reader.


  1. These are beautiful excerpts, Mary Lee. Thanks for sharing them with us.

    I especially love:

    love hard and deep,clutch dear ones tighter, ransom each day

    That idea of ransoming each day...gorgeous. And the praise one put me in mind of my praise poem, Without:


    Without plunging, a waterfall is only a river
    Praise the falling, the walling, the surprise of water standing on end

    Without sinking, a sunset is only blinding light
    Praise the creeping of night and its battle for sky control

    Without night falling, the moon just hangs, a pale, cold rock
    Praise the backdrop of black, the reflected white glow of sun

    Without wintering, summer overstays like holiday houseguests
    Praise the sharp freshness of ice, the clean slate before spring

    Without dying, life is a treadmill
    Praise deadlines and pressure, and the shortness to make time matter

    Without ending, the story is unfinished
    Praise the anticipation, the fear, the delight of The End

    --Laura Purdie Salas, all rights reserved

    Something about praising and accepting the hard parts of life really appeals to me...

    Here's hoping 2010 will bring respite to some of the struggles you and yours are dealing with.


  2. Laura,

    Thank you for sharing your praise poem. I remember loving it when you shared it on Poetry Friday a while back. It absolutely goes in this little set of encouragements and reminders to embrace ALL that life brings to us.

    And I totally agree about those lines you chose as favorites. I need to remember every day to "love hard and deep."

  3. I love them all. Thank you, Mary Lee. I've read some of Diane Ackerman's natural histories, but never her poetries . . .


  4. Wishing you well! And wanted to say, yes... sorrow starts small then bulges. And there is beauty in that. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Incredibly powerful, Mary Lee! Thanks for sharing!

  6. "I praise life's bright catastrophes,
    and all the ceremonies of grief"

    That's how I felt at Emily's funeral mass: so grateful for the ceremonies of grief, especially those celebrated together.

    Thank you for this post, Mary Lee.

  7. Thanks so much for these excerpts, Mary Lee. They perfectly address some of what we're going through as well -- my aunt was buried yesterday, Len's cousin just had two surgeries for cancer this week. "We Die" is so powerful.

  8. Jama and Sara,

    It's the power of poetry, isn't it, that brings us together in our sorrow (or our appreciation of beauty and love)'s poetry (and music and art) that connect us and tell us that our story is the human story. We're all in this together. Praise Be.

  9. Anonymous7:10 PM

    Oh, my goodness.
    My dad lost one of his best friends this week -- to cancer.
    I'm going to send him this...
    Thank you...

  10. Hi, Mary Lee,
    You won a copy of DEAR ONE and I need your mailing address to get it to you. Could you email that to me please at svardell at twu dot edu? Thanks! Sylvia


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