“To Acceptance”: Bobbi Lurie’s Grief Suite
Although I have known Bobbi Lurie through correspondence on the Internet since 2007, we have never met. It is a knowing related to writing itself, not to career ambition but to authentic sources. I have read her writing at Fictionaut and in two previous books of poetry: The Book I Never Read and Letter from the Lawn. In an appropriative poem based on Bible passages called “Key of James,” I write, “Who is wise and understanding among you?/… the harvest of righteousness is sewn/in privacy by those who make privacy./You ask and do not connive because you ask.” In Grief Suite Bobbi Lurie is wise and understanding. She does not connive because she asks. The poems create privacy in a public space.
In “Once My Heart Was Wide and Loved the World,” Lurie writes,
You watch the others retreat
At the entrance to the cancer factory
not presented to them yet.
But to us it is.
“To me alone,” we say in unison.
The hospital, like the factory, becomes a metaphor for the endangered private life of the person, and specifically of the poet, who requires privacy to survive. Though the hospital is not serving as a metaphor for the Internet, it shares with the Internet a loss of sense of place and personality. It is impersonal, a place where the most personal of life’s achievements—birth and death—take place within sight of professionals who serve the beginning, ending, and middle—if illness decides it—of life.
And so, as in the poem, “Codependent Nation,” there are a “codified grief/and dead conjectures.” The speaker of the poem meets her first love “at the vending machine/in the mental hospital.” They escape, through “bramble blackberries” and “the low branches of rotting apricot/the field lined with machinery/into what they call freedom.” No sooner have they escaped, then her first love leaves her at her near death “falling by the side of a/suspicious ditch” and “what flashed before me was/the life of someone else.”
Again the subject of incarceration surfaces, as in the hospital setting, but there, in freedom, the incarceration is of servitude and the speaker “a spoke in the wheel”: “I was an indentured servant to history and mishaps/to photographs hanging on the wall outside the closet,” photographs indicating family—the rote tendencies of all humans passing through time—“a life of/imagined horizons and road signs/symbolic with people.” In “Codependent Nation,” a seemingly fictional poem, as elsewhere in the collection, there is a sense of otherness that is romantic and discreet, even devout, but there is also a sense of them—the people who control “freedom” outside the confines of traps—such as the mental hospital—that create the illusion that freedom is free. They are the ones who poison the water, “the enemy.”
The speaker meets her husband, a waiter who serves her on a date with a different man. The waiter becomes a marriage counselor who divorces her later, leaving her without “children or marriage.” There is another marriage counselor, his friend whose wife is “miserable”: “a lot like me/deciphering the face of the wife/i saw myself in another” but there is no word in another language for this recognition, not even “friend”:
there is a terrible lack
of mail for me now
no greeting cards
just a generation of withering
yellow flowers in my garden
and who would take my body now
that is the other original question
i might ask that and
what am I doing here
The title poem of the volume is in prose and speaks of the senile mother. The first poem, “Traveling North,” is in verse and speaks of the violent father. Somewhere between the two poems, whose sentences sometimes stop symbolically in their own midst, is the other text, the script yet being written for this life.
In “This Amputated Place is My Soul, Lord” the poet prays, “Lord, preserve me, Lord, I am faltering/Lord, I am Lost in a skull of thoughts”:
This amputated place is my Soul, Lord
Though I fabricate my features in public
I dwell in Darkness, Lord
In “Purity Becomes a Kind,” the <br> tag either inserts a single line or is an empty tag which means that it has no end tag. Either the line breaks, or the line is “empty” without an end.
“Purity Becomes a Kind”
>purity becomes a kind <br>> > of holy innocence
wronged by everyt=
hing in the world <br> > that stands in its way.<br>> >
s " The girl whose flesh was dreamed"<br>>
The poem with its original line breaks:
purity becomes a kind
of holy innocence wronged by everything in the world
that stands in its way.
Perhaps “The girl whose flesh was dreamed”
What gratifies the reader of these poems—as of Lurie’s other writings—is Lurie’s ability to guide, whether to the beginning of creation or at the end of each hard life. Across an unpromising landscape travels, if not a lasting hope, then kindness, expressed as love-in-language. Though there may seem to be little comfort in living except from love, the natural world in its renewals is the base and source. Why we are here is a guess.
From “Grief Suite”:
Everything, even the weather, conspires to speak for the mother: the dense morning fog, the chill air cold night, afternoon heat staring down the greenery, newly minted, newly traded for her death. Everything speaks for the mother even though the daughter asks what scrap of beingness could have created this.
Bobbi Lurie’s Grief Suite will comfort those who appreciate the language of illness and death, their own or that of loved ones, who can take cheer at the poet’s courage offered even to abandoners—something the poet herself is not. Within each poem are fields in the line or paragraph by which to live:
“The blazing heat of cornfields. The landscape and body are one sensation.”