What The Living Do

Winter by Tirzah Garwood, 1927. Wood engraving.

I’ve been reading the quite wonderful Tirzah Garwood memoir Long Live Great Barfield – a book that deserves several posts all its own.

For now, here is her wood engraving Winter “1927 to accompany Marie Howe’s affecting and life-affirming poem about keeping going and carrying on after loss: What the Living Do.

It’s in the form of a letter to her younger brother John who died of AIDS complicated illness in 1989.

What The Living Do

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.

by Marie Howe

L.S. Lowry; The Empty House 1934

John Philip Busby; Landscape Silence, 1964

David Bomberg, At the Window; 1919

Life goes on, Oksana Pirgach

Barton Lides Benes
Untitled, ca. 1973
Mixed media book construction

Untitled 3 | Mel Cheren, Year Unknown

1 Comment

  1. Julie:

    That is such a moving poem. So captures the sense of loss and emptiness that comes with grief and bereavement. And then the lift of hope ….

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