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.
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.