Bogan and Dickinson

by | Aug 18, 2011 | 7 comments

It’s just horrible getting home from an event and not having anyone to talk to about it.  Audrey and I went to a concert of one of her favorite singers tonight.  She danced, sang along, and got her photo taken with Kimmy Schwimmy.   I was somewhat surprised by all of the fathers there- I am mostly used to weekday playdates/classes where fathers are not present.  I suppose at some point I’ll get used to this.

The other day as I took apart her crib, I tried to calculate how many occasions there might be in her life where I’ll have to take on a typically “fatherly” duty or task.  Taking apart her crib and setting up her big girl bed.  Check.  I guess there’s playing soccer- building with legos- two things you said you were going to do with her when you were interviewed for my baby shower.  And I suppose it all culminates with that walk down the aisle.  But I guess I’ll find out the rest as I go along.

She is into hiding things lately Dan, which makes me think of a paper I wrote on the poet Louis Bogan in college when I studied American women poets.  She wrote about hiding things as a child just for the gift of finding them later on.  It is cute to watch her run off with something.  And it stirs something in me too when I have asked her where something is and then later, I stumble upon it in some strange place.   I sit down on the couch, sometimes there’s a lump- a stuffed dog, under the cushion;  a puzzle piece under my sheet; a whole cup of butterfly and heart shaped sequins from her craft box tossed into the plastic bag her new big girl mattress was standing up in in the hallway for a few weeks.

I’ve been feeling a bit stuck lately.  I realize the “first year” had something that what follows does not. It was contained.  It was “the first year,” a countdown of days and holidays and anniversaries until that great and dreadful anniversary came again.

What lies afterwards is just open space.  The rest of your life.  Without.  There are not as many “death-related” chores or paperwork.  There is life.   My “previous life,” before this, appears now before me all the time like a time-lapse video.  Flashes of mundane moments and close-ups of your face and body.

Strangely, I feel more comfortable lately in open space- outside.  It feels like being indoors is just not large enough for the pain- as if it’s a physical object.  When I walk outside, there is room.  I feel it can spread to the skies.

But another odd thing- nature doesn’t look huge to me anymore.  I feel like it’s supposed to inspire me, or remind me of the majesty of creation, but everything actually looks really small these days.  Even the NYC skyline looked like a miniature diorama the other day while we walked along the river.  Like something from the opening credits of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.  I had to look back twice to be sure it really appeared that small.  The only thing of majesty is the endless universe beyond this small planet.

And this interchange, this swapping of big and small realities, reminds me of another american woman poet, Dickinson, on whom I wrote my college thesis.  In #352, she writes:

Perhaps I asked too large —
I take — no less than skies — 
For earths, grow thick as
Berries, in my native town —

My Basket holds– just — Firmaments —
Those — dangle easy– on my arm,
But smaller bundles —  Cram.

I realize lately that even though I had a strong faith and trusted God with my life, I never entrusted you to him.  “Please take care of him,” I ask now.  That was my job for quite a while.  Taking care of you.  In the end I didn’t get to do that at all.  I packed your vitamins and gave you a coupon for the taxi to the airport.  But I was not there when you needed me most.  I was not there to suggest you not go out that far, or to keep my eyes on you if you did.  I was not there to hold your hand while the life had just freshly left.  I am sad lately that the first time I saw your body was ten whole days later.

It’s silly really, but lately I also think a lot about how we would connect if there is an afterlife- if I live for fifty more years and do see you at the end of this bizarre journey- I try to understand how we would connect.  We have been greatly separated.  I am changed from the girl you knew before all of this.  You, would be too.  So I try to understand if there is a part of us- even in eternity- that would remain the same.  That would be, of course, the soul.  I think about my “self” as a child and whether or not there is a piece of me that is the same now.  Is that piece more than just a compilation of memories in the brain?  Will I still be “me” when I leave here and will you still be you?   I recall a moment – when I was very young, I lay on my bed and placed my feet on the wall for some reason- taking a photograph of my little feet there, and saying to myself simply, “Here I am- remember this moment.”  And I do remember it, and it was as if I was attempting to send myself a message in the future- though I’m not sure what it was.   “Here I am,” is what I said.

I think though, what this thought process is all about in terms of grieving-
is the letting go.

It’s about wondering, if I go on and subject myself to change and experience- (which in actuality, I cannot avoid anyway though I can go willingly or with burning blistering hands that cling to the doorknob)- will I still know you and you me.  Where will I carry the love with me and will it be safe.  I want to believe there is a special place where it can remain unchanged amidst all of life’s other changes.   I suppose that’s part of what this “space for wordkeeping” is all about.  Maybe it can be like a hidden pocket for treasured possessions, or reappear like the message I sent myself so many years ago, “Here I am- remember,” or maybe it will surprise me in the end- like a gift, like those butterfly and heart shaped rainbow sequins our little girl spills and sprinkles behind a piece of furniture in a dimly lit hallway.


August 18, 2011


  1. megan

    dear julia – this is the best thing I have read in a long time.

  2. HB

    Julia – Gorgeous as always. Love the thought of Audrey squirrelling away a cup of heart-shaped and butterfly sequins. A small comment but which made me so glad for such small delights.

    I am sure (as you wrote a thesis) that you have read Emily Dickinson's I Measure Every Grief I Meet poem, but perhaps if others reading this haven't, they might Google the words. I might add it to my blog.

    Love and solidarity HB xxx

  3. A.J.

    This is so powerful and rich with insights and meaning. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  4. SEH

    hi, julia. you don't know me, but i've been following your blog for some time now. i'm weary of posting this, since i don't know if it will be a source of comfort or more pain, but your entry reminded me of something i read in the new yorker a few weeks back:

    "Many religious people look forward to meeting loved ones in Heaven, Kitcher notes, and yet the reunion can’t be simply a continuation of life together on earth. If, say, a father lost his young son, as the Victorian agnostic Thomas Huxley lost his son Noel, Heaven would not restore what he most wanted, which was to see his son continue his life on earth. 'Moreover, any reunion would apparently confront two strangers with one another, a parent whose life had extended in different directions after Noel’s death and a child who would no longer occupy the emotional space vacated by his earthly death,' Kitcher writes."

    i hope at least it serves to let you know you are not alone in wondering what you're wondering.

  5. SEH


  6. Jo Julia

    Thanks SEH. I am familiar with Kitcher. I think the main thing is, no one knows what heaven would be like since it is just that- otherworldly. For all of us, this world is all we know. In earthly thinking- it is hard to imagine how it would work- which is what I am contemplating here- admittedly- quite foolishly given what I've just said. At the same time, theologically speaking, a new earth would allow for a different, fuller, life together on earth.

    Thanks again- I appreciate the quote and will look through my stack of NY'rs and try to find it!

  7. SEH

    not foolish, but hopeful. and grounded in Promise. thanks for sharing so honestly and beautifully, julia.


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