Issue 24, What the Living Do

Marie Howe on what it means to be living

Hi friends,

It’s been a couple months since the last issue, and I’ve been wanting to write for a while - but as they say life got in the way. As the world is beginning to open up and there are a few days of sunshine interspersed between rainy skies, there is an unescapable mist of yearning in the air. All the pent up dreams, plans, tentatively being given some more oxygen.

Since my last post about processing grief, I’ve moved into a new house - the first place I’ve felt ‘home’ in over a decade, letting myself feel some kind of permanence and, dare I say, calm in an age. And most recently I lost a close friend and mentor to cancer. Why do I tell you all this? Because this is what the living do, right? Give ourselves permission to feel some semblance of yearning, some joy in the mundanity of daily life, sandwiched in between sobering moments reminding us of our mortality.

As I struggle with oscillating between apathy, grief and gratefulness, I am learning to not take any moment when the sun hits my face for granted. Today I wanted to share this breathtaking poem by Marie Howe that is helping me process some of my thoughts.

Marie Howe is a New York poet, reporter and teacher and New York State poet laureate from 2012 to 2014. “What the Living Do” is an elegy for her brother who died of AIDS in the 80s. Howe talks about poetry as a way of looking through and at the present. “This might be the most difficult task for us in postmodern life: not to look away from what is actually happening. To put down the iPod and the e-mail and the phone. To look long enough so that we can look through it—like a window.”

What the Living Do

by Marie Howe

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there/ And the Drano won't work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven't called. This is the everyday we spoke of. / It's winter again: the sky's a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat's on too high in here and I can't turn it off. / For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I've been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those/ wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it. / Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want / whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss—we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass, / say, the window of the corner video store, and I'm gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I'm speechless: /
I am living. I remember you.



PS - In the honour of my friend, please consider donating to the below causes.

Lung Cancer Research Foundation
Cancer Research UK
Clean Air Task Force
Climate Emergency Fund