What the Living Do (by Marie Howe)
Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there. And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up
waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of. It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through
the open living room windows because the heat’s on too high in here, and I can’t turn it off. For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street the bag breaking,
I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,
I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.
What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss — we want more and more and then more of it.
But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep
for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living, I remember you.
A few years after her younger brother John died from AIDS-related complications in 1989, poet Marie Howe wrote him a poem in the form of a letter. Called “What the Living Do,” the poem is an elegiac description of loss, and of living beyond loss. And also a poem about learning to love life as it is and about learning to cherish not only life but ourselves as well.
Prayer: O God change me. God help me to be “struck by a a cherishing so deep” for myself, for others, and for life itself. And just as I cherish and learn to do so, may I know that I am also cherished by you. For I am loved with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3).