If You Want to Write About Grief by Anne Champion

"she ties her hair" (photo by Flickr user amrita b)

write about a dripping faucet
droning incessantly, keeping you awake
for nights on end, a leak so stubborn
you need a professional to fix it.
Don’t say you were suicidal
at the age of eight, you took scissors
to your wrist and wrote goodbye letters
to your sister—too much.
Those personal things need a mask.
Put the pill inside the sweet bread and feed
the drooling dog. Pat its head to sleep.
Refrain from relaying the story of your father,
facing divorce and weeping
in your room in the middle of the night
when you were five years old, saying
I never wanted this for you. I’m so sorry.
It’s futile to try. You can’t
adequately describe a strong man’s bumbling words,
the high pitched sobs that made you tremble,
except to say that a child’s listening ear
is a maze where voices plunge into dead ends.
If you must talk about heartbreak,
make your lover into an onion,
its animal odor, its ability
to make tears without reason.
Say you peeled away skin
after skin in search of a heart
that wasn’t there, just more layers,
green in the center, and a radiating halo
of stench—this is how you write about the lies
you believed and that terrorizing hope
only the purest love produces.
Protect your audience from sharp edges
of words like rape but never be too abstract;
take your pain and melt it down like metal,
solder it into something shiny, tangible,
small, wearable. Whatever you do,
don’t mention walking up to a casket
and running your hand through the hair of the dead—
say you were once a small squirrel
hit by a semi truck, still alive in the road
with your guts hanging out of your stomach,
waiting to die. Your audience will understand.
And whenever you want to talk about your heart,
make it a woman, dress her up in a crimson ball gown
with elaborate beading, give her blonde hair
and scarlet lipstick that stains every man’s cheek,
put a veil on her face—then they will know
your heart is so lovely she can make people weep.

Anne Champion spent most of her life in Kalamazoo, MI, but her hankering for city life brought her to Boston, MA, where she now happily resides. She has a BA in Creative Writing and Behavioral Psychology from Western Michigan University and received her MFA in Poetry at Emerson College. She has work previously published in The Minnetonka Review, Pank Magazine, The Aurorean, The Comstock Review, Poetry Quarterly and elsewhere.  She was also a 2009 recipient of The Academy of American Poets Prize at Emerson College.  She teaches writing at Emerson College, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, and Pine Manor College.