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Dear Almost

October 18, 2016

Matthew Thorburn sent me a copy of his volume-length poem Dear Almost so I could read and review it as part of a Poetic Book Tour. The poem is addressed to a daughter who was never born. Based on his own wife’s miscarriage, the poem describes Thorburn’s process of grieving during the entire first year afterwards.

Although I’ve never lost a child (I always feel very lucky when I fill out medical forms: Number of pregnancies—2 Number of live births—2), I found it easy to identify with the feelings of this parent who has, because Thorburn describes his grief in terms anyone could understand, even including events from the news:
“the amazing thing is not
that geese can get sucked
into an Airbus engine
and cause it to conk out
or that a pilot can tell air-
traffic control, ‘There’s only
one thing I can do,’
then take a deep breath
and do it—ditch
in the Hudson…
but that afterwards
many who weren’t hurt
in a lifelong way, only
shaken, roughed up, no doubt
shocked, had nothing else
to do, finally, except take a bus
back to LaGuardia and
catch another plane home.
Amazing too how
Before long people stop
Talking about it, they move on”

His mention that “speech pathology/is Lily’s/work” also ties me to the world of the poem, as that was my mother’s work. He describes
“what happens
when words
fail or can’t be found,
when the sounds don’t come
out right or
at all, the way even
now I can’t talk
about you.”

The story of the miscarriage is not told directly, but is the central event, the place
“Where everything changes
before time starts unspooling
again, half speed now, and all
will always be after”

The part of the poem that will resonate with anyone who has ever lost a loved one is the part about what he wishes he could show the child who never was:
“dirty rivers broken
into shards of light, old oaks
and elms, Amtrak trains,
the bright surprise of Chinese
music, the erhu’s plaintive cry
that makes me lonely for
someone I can’t name,
dozens of sparrows gossiping
in an overgrown hedge,
unleashed dogs, coffee light
and sweet, a shouty blue jay
letting his wake-up call rip
through the morning, darkness
and starlight, the way
even during the day we can still
sometimes see the moon”

The poet calls the child “Dear almost–/Dear keyhole I squint through/to see that other life—“

He and his wife reach a point where they can talk about their grief:
“It’s strange,”
Lily says when
I come home, “and un-
satisfying, isn’t it?
To hurt like this for someone
We never met?”

Near the end of the poem comes the question“grief does/end eventually, doesn’t/it?” In the end, he thinks that the child is “not enough/to hold onto.” And yet, he shows us, she has an effect on his world.

Tour schedule:
Oct. 6: Nerdy Talks Book Blog (Review)
Oct. 13: Stacy’s Books (Review)
Oct. 18: Necromancy Never Pays (Review)
Oct. 19: Jorie Loves a Story (Review)
Oct. 25: Bookgirl’s Nightstand (Guest Post & Giveaway)
Nov. 2: Peeking Between the Pages (Review)
Nov. 3: Peeking Between the Pages (Guest Post & Giveaway)
Nov. 5: Readaholic Zone (Review)
Nov. 8: True Book Addict (Guest Post & Giveaway)
Nov. 15: 5 Minutes for Books (Review)
Nov. 18: The Book Tree (Guest Post & Giveaway)

5 Comments leave one →
  1. October 18, 2016 9:06 am

    Thanks so much for being on the tour. I think this collection has a universal message for those who are grieving.

    • October 18, 2016 5:50 pm

      It’s the most confessional poetry I’ve read in a long time.

  2. October 18, 2016 9:12 am

    Lovely poem. Made me think two things: 1, that you can go months without thinking of that “someone we never met,” but the loss is forever. And 2, I wish I had had this poem 32 years ago, to help me give words to my grief. Poetry is maybe not the best vehicle for some things, but it holds emotions in the most manageably compact way.

    • October 18, 2016 5:51 pm

      I wish you had had this poem 32 years ago, too.
      In Animal Dreams, Barbara Kingsolver’s protagonist Cody says that if you ask any mother who has lost a child, she will tell you how old that child would be now. I’ve always believed this.


  1. Dear Almost by Matthew Thorburn Blog Tour (Fall 2016) |

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