What language do we have to describe the ebbing life of a loved one? American poet Victoria Chang explores the tension between clinical descriptors – “the oversimplification of my mother’s dying” – and her emotional connection to her mother’s suffering. ⁣

After her mother died, Chang distilled her grief by writing poetry to express the depth of her loss.

language

by Victoria Chang

Language—died again on August
3, 2015 at 7:09 a.m. I heard about
my mother’s difficult nights. I hired
a night person. By the time I got
there, she was always gone. The
night person had a name but was like
a ghost who left letters on a shore
that when brought home became
shells. Couldn’t breathe, 2:33 a.m.
Screaming, 3:30 a.m. Calm, 4:24
a.m. I got on all fours, tried to pick up
the letters like a child at an egg hunt
without a basket. But for every letter
I picked up, another fell down, as if
protesting the oversimplification of
my mother’s dying. I wanted the night
person to write in a language I could
understand. Breathing unfolding,
2:33. Breathing in blades, 3:30.
Breathing like an evening gown,
4:24. But maybe I am wrong, how
death is simply death, each slightly
different from the next but the final
strike all the same. How the skin
responds to a wedding dress in the
same way it responds to rain.