Woman Poet Series

II – The Person That You Were Will Be Replaced


In grief the person that you were is replaced by grief …

not the person you originally were but the one you’d become.


Grief is opportunistic and uncontrollable


         it doesn’t exactly come

from you, you “allow it in”         It’s godlike

         as in possession.


This was the night I was the craziest: near my birthday,

four months after Ted’s death, walking

on Second Avenue I thought “It’s possible

he didn’t really die.” I felt a maniacal joy

and then became sickened and distressed

I knew a depth of me had, up to then, believed he was alive.

That depth was now emptied of him and filled with grief.


I dreamed all that year; I divided into dreamer and interpreter

         A gigantic horse blocks

         the entrance to

my building; I wake up and think “The horse is a hearse”

         blocking my life. Or

a dream with a dawn in it, the sky purple-black,

but a hint of dawn, and when I awake I know it’s the sky

in Lawrence’s “Ship of Death”—thin white

thread—trying its way.


                                     If a self can

contain the deaths of others, it’s very large;

it’s certainly larger than my body

         If the other who dies is partly me,

and that me dies and another grows, the medium it grows in

         is grief.


The wish to locate absence, that contemporary obsession to

         find the empty present—         

grief will saturate the present.


Grief isn’t glandular; though becomes somatic;

gets far into your body. Eats it changes it.

One is magically struck down at certain

moments, can’t move, can’t arise,

and inside is poison: grief gets caught

in intensifying pockets which when opened

cause sensations of illness. On Christmas morning

I can’t stand up.


If you immerse your feet in icy water

you forget grief for a moment. I did this once, my

brother-in-law made us cross a cold stream barefoot,

that winter, walking in the woods—I was emptied, then elated,

blissful; but didn’t try it again. Grief

returns vengeful after you’ve repulsed it.


Alice Notley

Poetry of Ted Berrigan (1934 – 1983)

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